A Marietta paper supply company is pivoting its business in order to provide respirator masks for those who need them.
By the time people most at risk for serious side effects from COVID-19 knew about the disease, protective masks were sold out everywhere.
So Ryan Casey, who owns Safety Connexion, decided to add KN95 masks to his regular orders for paper products.
"The N95 is kind of the gold standard with the [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health] label on it like the 3M brand," Casey said. "The KN95, to be perfectly honest, is comparable to it. You just don't have as many of these certifications and recognition as the other."
The difference between the KN95 and N95 masks has to do with certifications and where the masks are made. Legitimate masks and manufacturers are regulated by NIOSH — the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
"My family's been in the food service packaging industry for quite some time — my whole life," he said. "And we represent manufacturers of supply to hospitals, schools, restaurants, supermarkets...."
Since he has the distribution contacts in Asia, Casey bought a select number of masks to sell locally at cost.
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New guidance issued by the FDA allows for emergency use of respirators certified under standards set by five non-US countries plus the EU but does not make such a concession for masks certified by China’s health authority. That means that shipments of KN95 masks could potentially get halted at the border.
Laura Logan, a friend of Casey's, said she's known the Casey family for 10 years. When a health care worker friend of Logan's questioned the website that launched in March, Logan vouched for the mask salesman.
"This is a friend of mine, they're a very Christian family," Logan said. "I tried to totally help her understand that this is not a scam."
The reason Casey can sell these masks is because he has access, Logan said. This is a way for people who aren't getting masks from the government to make sure they are safe. That can be for health care workers or people whose family members have health issues that put them at risk for serious complications from COVID-19.
Casey said he's making the most of the quarantine situation at home with his 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.
"My two little kids at home, we're giving them like a nickel a mask just so they can kind of, you know, maybe learn the business side of things and be part of it," Casey said. "We're just trying to cover the costs of getting masks here."
He said most of his customers are the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. A friend of Casey's is raising money to donate masks to health care workers.