Homewood Maker Hustles, Hires Locals to Manufacture 50,000+ COVID-19 Face Shields

PITTSBURGH – Three philanthropic foundations and Highmark are helping Homewood maker Day Owl to transform its Homewood headquarters to quickly produce high-quality, medical-grade plastic face shields, to better protect southwestern PA health-care providers from COVID-19. 

Day Owl founder and CEO Ian Rosenberger said the first face shields will come off the line today. Highmark has already contracted to purchase 30,000 Day Owl face shields for distribution to the physicians, nurses and other health-care providers at Allegheny Health Network (AHN). 

And Rosenberger said 10 workers, most from the Homewood community, will be employed by Day Owl in the endeavor. 

“It feels great knowing that we can partake in assembling a product that will help people in the medical fields, public service and even civilians who spend their days helping others,” said Brenda Joy Ponti of Homewood, a Day Owl stitcher. 

“This is yet another example of Pittsburgh’s young talent and longtime institutions coming together to meet urgent community healthcare and economic needs,” said Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. The Richard King Mellon Foundation awarded $1.25 million to Day Owl’s parent company, Thread International, in 2018 to create its Homewood facility. 

“The maker community – led in this instance by Day Owl – is redirecting its creative talents, manufacturing capability and entrepreneurial spirit to keep our frontline healthcare workers safe,” Reiman said. “And longtime Pittsburgh leadership institutions are helping them do it. Highmark stepped up to buy 30,000 face shields. And the Heinz Endowments, the Henry L. Hillman Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation are using our resources to make certain even more face shields quickly get to the providers who need them most.” 

Worn over an N95 masks, the Day Owl face shields give health-care providers a critical second layer of protection against transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Importantly, the face shields also enable the N95 masks – currently in critical short supply – to last substantially longer. Without a face shield, N95 masks must be discarded after every patient interaction. With a face shield, the masks safely can be utilized much longer. 

“We’re very grateful to Day Owl for stepping up to join the region’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by producing these high-quality, medical grade face shields for our caregivers at AHN,” said Tony Farah, MD, chief medical officer, Highmark Health. “By partnering with Day Owl, we are securing more of the personal protective equipment that is so essential to our employees’ health, while also helping to keep another important community asset and its workforce viable during this challenging time.” 

“From the moment we realized this crisis would drive brutal shortages in personal protective gear and other equipment, our three foundations have turned to Pittsburgh’s incredible maker community for help,” said Grant Oliphant, President of The Heinz Endowments. “We have seen a huge response as entrepreneurs, designers, innovators, academics, nonprofits and manufacturers have self-organized into teams looking for safe, practical solutions like this one. We are proud to join with Richard King Mellon, Hillman, Highmark and other Pittsburgh institutions to support this life-saving ingenuity and the can-do spirit driving it forward.” 

“It is terrific that a local company like Day Owl is able to do the essential work of producing critical personal protective equipment for local distribution,” said David Roger, President of the Henry L. Hillman Foundation. 

Manufacturing face shields at the scale necessary to meet today’s urgent medical needs is no small matter – and Pittsburgh’s maker community has risen to the challenge. Rosenberger and his Day Owl team hustled this week to source the essential raw materials, which, because of the crisis, are in short supply domestically. They obtained 30,000 square feet of plastic from California, and 11 linear miles of elastic from North Carolina. “That’s almost an elastic half marathon,” Rosenberger said. “I believe it was about to become underwear when we rescued it.” 

As they gathered precious supply, they worked to create the product itself. Day Owl reached out to fellow makers in Pittsburgh for die-casting and other essential manufacturing components. The Day Owl face shield was designed by another maker, Protohaven. 

“They’ve all been incredible, dropping everything to help,” said Rosenberger of his fellow Pittsburgh makers. “This is Pittsburgh. I’m so impressed, and somehow also not surprised, by the number of people who have come together so quickly to make this happen. It’s things like that that remind you we’ll get through all of this.” 

Day Owl revamped its Homewood operation last year to design sustainable backpacks and cord pouches. Those operations were curtailed by the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, and some workers had to be furloughed as a result. But now Day Owl is hiring those workers back – and adding more. 

Day Owl is but one example of southwestern Pennsylvania’s growing maker community. The Richard King Mellon Foundation has invested more than $6.2 million to help nurture and grow Pittsburgh’s maker community since 2016. “Pittsburgh’s makers are the heirs to our historic industrial past, and a leading edge of our vibrant economic future,” Reiman said. 

Added Rosenberger: “Day Owl can ship anywhere domestically, so if your organization needs to acquire Day Owl face shields, contact me at [email protected].”