NEW YORK – The Brooklyn Navy Yard, birthplace of historic vessels such as the USS Maine, whose destruction in Havana Harbor in 1898 spurred the Spanish-American War, and the USS Missouri, which hosted the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, is now home to improvised assembly lines turning out masks for medical workers on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic.
After building ships for the US Navy from 1806 to 1966, the yard became the site of an industrial complex managed by the New York City government.
Once the scale of the crisis in the Big Apple became clear, officials appealed to local firms with manufacturing capability to start making masks, gloves, gowns and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff at the city’s beleaguered hospitals.
Several of the companies who answered that call are located at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, including Duggal Visuals, a design and printing outfit that converted its 20,000 sq m (215,000 sq ft) event space overlooking the East River into a factory floor.
The firm’s head, Michael Duggal, said that he and his employees were preparing to shut down the operation in accord with the restrictions imposed New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo to contain the spread of Covid-19 when they learned of the appeal for companies to make PPE.
A member of the staff realized that a material Duggal Visuals worked with regularly was suitable for the task and the team immediately started on prototypes of a face shield for doctors and nurses, Michael Duggal told EFE.
The company began making face shields on a Wednesday and delivered the first shipment of 50,000 on a Saturday, he said.
Since then, the operation, which also involves Bednark, a navy-yard based builder of custom installations for clients such as Google and Heineken, has turned out 250,000 shields.
“In this building right now we have about 160 people working. We could actually fit more and we have more people who want to be part of it, but we’re trying to keep everyone with the safe social distances and the bathrooms, food, meeting areas, everything not get (crowded), and keep everybody safe,” Michael Duggal said.
Output now ranges between 25,000 and 30,000 shields per day.
Though the number of workers is nowhere the 70,000 who built aircraft carriers and battleships at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II, the spirit of the current effort is similar.
German Quijano, a Salvadoran immigrant who has been with Duggal Visuals for 24 years, has the job of “ensuring there’s enough material and that the production volume is maintained.”
Wearing a mask and gloves, like the rest of the workers, he describes the process for EFE.
“Now we are collaborating to help the doctors and the nurses to protect themselves,” he said with pride.
While most of the workers are Bednark and Duggal employees, the team includes people hired specifically for this project, such as Gretchen Mongrain.
“Normally I work for Harley-Davidson of New York City,” she told EFE. “But that was considered a non-essential business so I was basically laid off from that job and a friend of a friend posted that Bednark and Duggal were looking for people, volunteers, to help make the masks, so I answered the ad and here I am.”
The United States leads with the world with 432,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and New York state accounts for nearly half of that total and almost 50 percent of the country’s more than 14,000 deaths.