Translating Short-term Covid-19 Response into Long-term Resilience

DATE:  August 24, 2020     CATEGORIES:  Somerville Media Center Partnership

Artisan’s “Gowntown” team is a diverse group of makers filling the need for PPE supplies locally and across the nation. Here the team is preparing isolation gown material for pattern cutting.

Since April Artisan’s Asylum has produced, sold and delivered more than 30,000 units of personal protective equipment, much of it distributed to Boston-area health service providers. Local beneficiaries include groups with direct ties to the Somerville and Cambridge communities: Cambridge Health Alliance, Atrius Health, Nizhoni Health, VNA Care, and Covid Action Network Massachusetts.

Artisan’s PPE production fulfills an important role in the local market: we serve middle to small purchasers – urgent care centers, nursing homes, dentist offices – who place comparatively small orders. They are too often unable to compete against the largest providers that place orders in the hundreds of thousands of units. Our PPE service allows these smaller, community-centered providers to continue operations using quality goods.

We are currently producing isolation gowns at “Gowntown”, a temporary 3,500 SF space in Lower Allston, licensed to us by Harvard University. Through a grant from #GetUsPPE Artisan’s has been able to set up a safe production line. We employ new Americans and formerly incarcerated persons recruited through the City of Boston and other partners. Working alongside volunteers, this team cuts, assembles, folds and packages gowns that are shipped around the country. At present, we are keeping our operation running through September to meet the demand created by Covid-19 outbreaks in other states.

The entire “Gowntown” operation fits into a 3,500 SF. space in Lower Allston that has been licensed to the Asylum by Harvard University.

Artisan’s Asylum seeks support to continue our operations in anticipation that we will see an uptick of local Covid-19 cases this fall and winter. Our ability to produce excess inventory and generate a stockpile of gowns anticipates – and will help to address – local shortages. With a modest investment covering materials and labor, the Asylum can continue to produce gowns through December 2020.

We face a few challenges in our work. We are a largely volunteer-run effort; retaining volunteers during the summer, and during a time of public health uncertainty, has at times been a challenge. We will continue to reach out to Cambridge and neighboring businesses and residents alike for their support. We will also continue to employ our production workers.

A second challenge is the uncertainty of Covid-19 itself, and its impact on our region. As we prepare to reconvene schools, and as the population grows weary of the routines of isolation and social distancing, we expect there to be an increase in the incidence of Covid-19 cases. However, at the present time, hospital capacity is nowhere near the crisis levels experienced from March through June; as a result, demand (and our income) has plummeted. To account for this, Artisan’s has sought grants and needs beyond the Boston region.

As the saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”; we didn’t so much have the idea to produce gowns, as we felt an obligation to put our collective creative minds and hands together to help our community. We will know we’ve succeeded when we’re sure there is no demand from local customers and we no longer feel the need to be in production!

Please read more about our PPE production efforts, here:

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