The coronavirus put hockey rink orders on ice – temporarily – for John Burley's company.
Now, Burley is swinging back to keep Everything Ice's nearly 50 employees at work, while aiming to help fill a medical protective gear shortage. He said plans are in place to order materials needed to build medical-grade face shields inside his Main Street, Johnstown, location – and work with international suppliers to distribute thousands of N-95 masks that are in high demand across the nation.
"There's nothing more passionate and rewarding than saving a person's life ... and this is going to give us an opportunity to stay busy and keep our employees at work," Burley said Thursday.
Burley said he's been concerned about COVID-19 since January.
He said one of his employees has been off work since March 14 – initially getting sent home for showing symptoms of the virus and later testing positive for it.
Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center officials have confirmed one person was being treated for COVID-19, but – citing federal patient privacy rights – has not identified the individual or any other personal details.
Burley said his employee was doing well and recovering from the disease – and said he's thankful the man didn't develop more serious complications.
'Demand out there'
Burley said he was purchasing materials – including plastic and elastic – to assemble the medical shields.
For the N-95 "respirator" masks, he has turned to an international manufacturing partner capable of producing 1.5 million a day.
A hospital group in West Virginia is already looking to order 400,000 "right away," Burley said.
"There's a lot of demand out there," Burley said.
With the N-95 masks, Everything Ice would link the finished products to buyers.
The fitted shields, on the other hand, would be assembled in-house by his Johnstown production team.
"Our view is, if another human being on the planet can do it, then we can, too," he said. "We have good creative, hardworking minds here that can figure out a way to do anything."
State Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Ferndale, applauded Burley's initiative.
He said it could be a win for Johnstown – and a nation desperate for protective medical masks as coronavirus is spreading fast and some hospitals are calling for supplies.
Rigby spoke with Burley on Tuesday after his wife, Kathleen, spotted a Facebook post about the effort.
He said he asked Burley to put his endeavor into writing and has already forwarded it to state House leadership – including Appropriations chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, and House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County.
"From there, it'll get to the governor's leadership team ... and whoever else needs to see it," Rigby said. "This would be a win-win for everybody. Not only does it have the potential to protect many people, but it's going to mean work for the people building those masks and supplies for the trucks that will distribute them."