How a Henderson company went from making window shades to surgical masks

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Steve Marcus

Annie Duenez “welds” the sleeves of protective gowns at the Polar Shades facility, 5520 Stephanie Street, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. The company is transitioning from manufacturing window shades to protective gowns and surgical masks to help meet demand for protective gear amid the pandemic.

Thu, Mar 26, 2020 (2 a.m.)

In normal times, workers at Polar Shades would be busy making window shades out of the company's factory in Henderson. But these aren’t normal times.

The company has turned the facility into a plant producing masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment used by Las Vegas-area health care professionals and first responders fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

But they say there’s one problem: Polar Shades doesn’t have enough raw materials to match the quantity of product it intends to produce. The company is partnering with Henderson and local leaders to ask 3M, an industry leader in producing protective equipment, for more supplies.

“We knew that we had the equipment to do this,” Polar Shades owner Steve Mevius said. “Right now, we’re just trying to do the right thing.”

And they aren’t waiting around for supplies, knowing even the smallest of production can help combat a projected shortage in local hospitals. Polar Shades has produced approximately 1,000 gowns as of Wednesday afternoon, and has already started to supply area facilities. 

Once it has the necessary supplies, Mevius said the company of about 70 employees can produce about 1,000 gowns and about 5,000-6,000 masks in an eight-hour shift. They found some materials needed to produce masks in Boston, and are awaiting a shipment to arrive Saturday, but other suppliers are tapped out of resources. 

“We just want to keep our people employed is the biggest thing, and help the community,” said Jordan Mevius, Steve’s daughter who works in marketing for the company.

Late last week, the company decided to start production of medical supplies, reprogramming high-speed cutters used for shades to accommodate the specs for other materials. By Sunday, the first gown was produced.  

Henderson has purchased all of the supplies and Polar Shades is paying for the labor. 

The partnership happened quickly last week, said Javier Trujillo, director of government and public affairs for Henderson. Steve Mevius contacted the city about his plant’s capabilities, and within hours city officials were touring the facility. While on the tour Trujillo was messaging colleagues to spread the word of the opportunity.

“We’ve essentially created this partnership with Polar Shades to do what we need to do to keep our community safe,” Trujillo said. “We’re just doing our little part to try and give our community the assurances that they need that government is working on their behalf.”

The finished product has already been put to good use.

On Tuesday, UNLV School of Medicine personnel began administering curbside coronavirus testing but were short on protective supplies — masks and gown are designed for single use. Polar Shades provided 60 gowns for UNLV on Wednesday.

Steve Mevius says the equipment is being sold at cost to medical providers and that his company is taking a loss by absorbing the labor costs. “We’re spending a lot of money. We’ll worry about it later,” he said.

Trujillo is working with many parties in reaching out to 3M, including the Nevada League of Cities & Municipalities, and other state entities. 

“What 3M needed was to hear from the local governments on the front lines dealing with the pandemic,” said Wesley Harper, the executive director of the league of cities. “It’s one thing to get information from state officials, high-ranking, somewhat removed from the daily interaction. It’s another thing to get it from those actively in need of the equipment.”

The Nevada Association of Counties, the Nevada Resort Association, Vegas Metro, the Porter Group run by former U.S. Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) based in Washington D.C., Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office and local business partners, are among the groups that Trujillo and his team reached out to. The Sun’s attempt to contact 3M also wasn’t answered.

“We have now made it known that the city of Henderson and Polar Shades are working on this partnership,” Trujillo said. “Everyone is coming together to help.”

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