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Donation of N95 masks by Utah-based Zagg is ‘game changer’ for health care workers

Despite its own struggles, Zagg used its suppliers to buy 10,000 masks and donated them to those desperate for protective gear

Brad Bell and his son, Ryan Bell, pack N95 masks into boxes at Zagg headquarters in Midvale on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. The company is donating 10,000 of the masks to hospitals, medical professionals and high-risk individuals to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in the communities in which the company operates.
Brad Bell and his son, Ryan Bell, pack N95 masks into boxes at Zagg headquarters in Midvale on Tuesday, April 14, 2020. The company is donating 10,000 of the masks to hospitals, medical professionals and high-risk individuals to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in the communities in which the company operates.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

MIDVALE — Erin Nolte and Tyler Young realize the two boxes they collected from Zagg headquarters in Midvale don’t look like anything special to most people.

But to the hospice companies that both Nolte and Young represent, the coveted and almost impossible to find medical-grade masks packed in those boxes are a lifeline to nurses, aides and patients.

“It’s huge,” said Young, co-owner and marketing manager of Ashby Hospice. “It changes the game on how we’re able to reach out to our 130 patients that we have.”

The masks will enable Ashby and Yarrow Hospice staff to enter facilities and work with sick and dying patients cared for in long-term facilities, assisted living centers and hospitals. But they aren’t the only companies who got a delivery from Utah-based Zagg. The company was able to buy 10,000 masks from a supplier it works with in China. The company’s leadership and a few employees sorted and boxed them to go to nine different organizations, including the Utah Department of Health.

“One of our cultural beliefs is help for people,” said CEO Chris Ahern. “We got chatting as an executive team, and we really felt it was a good opportunity to help people in the communities where we’re relevant, like we’re here in Salt Lake; Shannon, Limerick in Ireland, and in Irvine, California.”

Zagg management read that personal protective equipment for health care workers, specifically U.S. medical grade masks (N95), were almost impossible to acquire.

“We’re lucky that we have a really good procurement team in China,” Ahern said. “We have access to other contract manufacturers, and very quickly our team got behind it. We procured these in under two weeks.”

Many of the organizations receiving the donated masks had tried to secure protective equipment without success.

“We’ve been trying for weeks and weeks,” Young said of trying to order masks for staff. “We got about 50, about three and a half weeks ago. And our clinicians are just spraying them down, reusing them. We haven’t been able to give them to the rest of our clinicians. So we only have a select few nurses and aides that can go into homes, can go into assisted living facilities, just because we haven’t been able to get all of these.”

He motioned toward the boxes containing 400 masks, which protect both the patients and the nurses and aides who work with them.

“We work with the elderly, so 65 and older,” Young said. “So it’s kind of a big deal where they’re so terrified to leave, but yet they still need clinical oversight from some of our clinicians. So it just makes it huge for our staff to be able to continue to do their jobs.”

Nolte, who is an aide supervisor for Yarrow Hospice, said as she visits care centers and medical facilities in Salt Lake, Summit and Utah counties, she hears from staff that they don’t have the protective equipment they need.

“They tell me, right at the door, there’s great need,” she said. “None of the orders go through online, or if they go through, they’ll get (canceled) because there is too much demand.”

Some women from a local congregation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been sewing and donating masks so that Nolte has something to offer caregivers who are providing a vital service for patients who can no longer have visitors of any kind.

When Zagg officials reached out to her a couple of weeks ago, she was immediately overwhelmed.

“It was a total godsend,” Nolte said, “because the need is real. And these are nice!”

Zagg undertook the effort to buy the protective equipment so it could support front-line health care workers, despite dealing with the same financial issues impacting most businesses after COVID-19 precautions brought the economy to a halt, including working remotely and furloughing employees.

“Our community of employees, they really value what we do for people,” Ahren said. “We spend almost $200,000 a year on Make-A-Wish. We’d plan parties every month for kids in need and it’s really embraced by all of our employees. So the minute we spoke about this, I personally got a number of emails from employees that were super proud and happy that we were looking after the people who need at most.”

Ahern said the company’s employees began working from home three and a half weeks ago, and because their products are sold by retailers, which are closed due to health department regulations aimed at slowing the spread of the new coronavirus, revenue plummeted and they were forced to furlough some employees.

“The hope is obviously with the timeframe, those employees come back to us,” he said. “I’ve always been in consumer electronics, and I’ve been through a number of, I would say trying times. But nothing like this for sure. It’s new to all of us.”

Zagg donated 2,000 masks to the Utah Department of Health, 700 to Indian Health Service, 500 to the Rural Utah Project, 800 to Yarrow Hospice, 400 to Ashby Hospice, 500 to the VA Hospital, 100 to Utah-based flight attendants, 2,000 to HOAG Hospital (Irvine), and 2,500 to Ireland.