LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – As experts recommend higher-quality masks to protect against the highly-transmissible COVID–19 delta and omicron variants, a Polk County manufacturer is racing to keep up with demand.
“We can make about 2 million N95 respirators each day,” said Matt Muller, president of Advanced Concept Innovations, or ACI. “What this has enabled us to do is answer the call, the government’s call, to manufacture here domestically.”
ACI did not start out in the respirator-making business. The part of the large Frontage Road facility now making N95 respirators used to make cosmetic wipes.
Both products are made with “non-woven materials.”
“It just made sense from a demand in conjunction with an inquiry from our local hospital, Lakeland Regional Health, to design and manufacture respirators,” said Muller.
Lakeland Regional needed protective equipment at the start of the pandemic and turned to ACI for help. From there, things just started expanding.
“We saw increased demand. We decided to make our own product. Went through the NIOSH and FDA process. Now we have our second machine in production now,” said Muller.
That second machine is what allows the company to produce up to 2 million N95 respirators every day.
They are now part of the CDC’s list of approved respirators. Sixty percent of KN95’s on the market are counterfeit, according to the agency.
“Why our demand is so high, is this duckbill style, people make fun of it a little bit, right, but the reality is it’s preferred in health care settings, the design and the breathability,” he said.
Experts are recommending people wear N95s or KN95s.
“If you want maximum protection, an N95 or KN95 – those kind of masks are just much more effective,” said Jason Salemi, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida. “The recommendations are out there. It’s the job now of manufactures and the federal government to make sure that enough of these are going to exist for everybody to be able to make use of them.”
In the midst of the highly transmissible omicron variant and the new recommendations, the demand has been high for Muller and his team.
“I know we’re going extended shifts right now. We got orders, not just through Friday afternoon – on Saturday, on Sunday, and they started again this morning,” said Muller.
Muller takes pride in sharing that his prices are comparable to the same products made in China.
As he puts it, it’s all part of “answering the call.”
“Do you feel a pressure to produce because the world is kind of counting on these masks?” asked News Channel 8’s Staci DaSilva.
“Not a pressure, a pride,” he answered. “The government has called out domestic manufacturers to challenge us, to see if we can make them domestically.”