Nury Martinez, president of the Los Angeles City Council, put out a call to action during the county’s novel coronavirus pandemic update on Monday, asking manufacturers in Southern California to help produce medical equipment in low supply, such as gloves and masks, for health professionals to use as they test and treat patients.
Coincidentally, Burbank business owner Julio Ruiz announced on Facebook hours before the county’s briefing that he and his staff at LiquidSky Sports would be shifting their production line from making skydiving and other sports apparel to produce masks for healthcare workers, first responders and the public.
Ruiz and his business, which he started in 2004 in Puerto Rico, are well known in the skydiving community and have worked on movies, including “Mission Impossible: Fallout” and the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick.”
Ruiz said on Tuesday that in a matter of days he started receiving orders and donations from people around the world — from countries such as Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom — who either wanted masks of their own or wanted to fund his efforts.
Many of those donors were people he’s met over the years in the skydiving community and the entertainment industry.
For every mask that is purchased, another is donated to an agency, organization or person who needs it.
“Whoever needs a mask will get a mask. I don’t care who it is,” Ruiz said. “I’m not here to make money. I want to pay my rent, my staff, my bills and to help the community.”
Switching from making high-quality skydiving suits to reusable masks with filters in them was not that significant of a transition for Ruiz and his employees.
Using the same custom-built laser fabric cutter he uses for sports apparel, Ruiz said he was able to create a template that cuts out the shape of the fabric needed to put together a mask.
He estimates that about 1,000 masks could be made in a day if he and about eight people on his staff dedicate all of their time to producing the product.
The mask itself is washable and reusable in that only the filter needs to be replaced. Ruiz said the replaceable MERV 16 filters in his masks are used for air filtration but have an equivalent rating to the N95 masks used by health professionals.
He was told by those he knows in the medical field that the MERV 16 filters were a comparable alternative to N95 filters but should only be used if medical-grade masks aren’t available.
“I’m being very clear with people that these are not certified masks,” Ruiz said. “It’s just something we can make that we think can help people and provide some protection.”
Helping out during a crisis isn’t something new for Ruiz. He helped organize a fundraiser to gather medical supplies for those in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The coronavirus pandemic may be on a much larger scale than a hurricane, but Ruiz said he just wants to contribute to the cause any way he can.
“Things can get really bad and a lot of people think this is a joke, but it isn’t,” Ruiz said. “This can be really bad if we don’t work together or practice social distancing. It’s super important that we help each other as much as we can.”
To purchase masks or donate to LiquidSky’s efforts, email Ruiz at [email protected].