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Iconic hat maker turns to sewing masks during virus outbreak

The Associated Press

Ironwood, Mich. – A Michigan company that makes Stormy Kromer wool hats has pivoted to sewing facial masks for medical workers battling the coronavirus pandemic and plans to produce more protective gear for hospitals facing a supply shortage.

Gina Thorsen, the president of Stormy Kromer, said Ironwood-based Jacquart Fabric Products started producing masks on Wednesday for the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison. The company was also preparing to make disposable and reusable hospital gowns, booties and other personal protective equipment.

“The women sewing these masks were making Stormy Kromer products last week – and are proud to be working on these essential items today,” the company said in a statement on Facebook.

Torson said the manufacturer’s shift from its trademark hand-sewn winter wool caps to medical supplies is allowing a third of the company’s 100-employee workforce to remain employed after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered nonessential businesses to close to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

“Unfortunately, Stormy Kromer hats would be considered nonessential,” Thorsen told Crains Detroit in a telephone interview Thursday.

However, the manufacture of equipment for health care professionals and first-responders is considered essential work under Whitmer’s three-week stay-at-home order that went into effect on Tuesday.

“We knew we couldn’t make N95 masks. But we have a history of being able to sew just about anything,” said Thorsen, whose grandfather started the company in 1958 by sewing bank deposit bags.

Several Michigan manufacturers have stepped up to help fight the coronavirus. Petoskey Plastics is making hospital isolation gowns. Jackson-area metal fabricator Technique Inc. is manufacturing protective face shields. Ford and General Motors are expected to produce respiratory ventilators.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, which can include fever and cough but also milder cases of pneumonia, sometimes requiring hospitalization. The risk of death is greater for older adults and people with other health problems.

As of Friday, more than 3,600 people in Michigan have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and at least 92 have died.