City ups Brooklyn medical equipment manufacturing, buys COVID-19 testing kits

Workers making medical face shields at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

City manufacturers will ramp up production of medical protection equipment at two Brooklyn business parks in the coming weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Tuesday.

Hizzoner said that work at the Brooklyn business hubs and in other boroughs would be “supercharged” for more than a dozen companies in an effort to produce hundreds of thousands of medical face shields, gowns, and COVID-19 testing kits — necessary supplies that the federal government has dropped the ball on providing, de Blasio said.

“Our efforts to get them from Washington, DC — no result,” the mayor said at his daily briefing on April 14.

The Economic Development Corporation, the city’s business boosting arm, has recruited eight companies to produce the plastic facial guards at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Brooklyn Army Terminal, and on the distant isle of Manhattan — up from the three firms that started making them at the Fort Greene business park last month.

This will boost production of the shields from about 120,000 per week to 465,000 weekly by April 24 with a goal of 620,000 every week, which would be enough to fulfill the needs of city medical workers, the mayor said.

Five companies in the Navy Yard, Sunset Park, Manhattan, and Queens will increase their production of medical gowns, amping up the current 30,000 weekly output to 100,000 by April 24 with a goal of 250,000 per week, according to de Blasio.

One maker, Sunset Park sewing nonprofit Course of Trade, will bring more than 400 seamstresses from the neighborhood and nearby communities to construct the gowns, according to the EDC’s chief executive officer James Patchett.

In the Navy Yard, tactical gear manufacturer Crye Precision and women’s fashion designer Lafayette 148 started sewing the gowns earlier in the month.

De Blasio lauded the firms for stepping up to produce this kind of essential equipment for the first time in the city’s recent history.

“These are brand new production lines, created from scratch by companies here, by New York City workers, in an atmosphere of crisis and they’ve surpassed any possible expectation we could have and we’re going farther,” he said.

The city is still in need of more testing kits, which are crucial to testing more people and moving toward a low-level of infection rates from the viral respiratory illness, according to de Blasio, who said that his pleas with federal officials have not yet yielded results.

“Over months now the place we turned to for help — Washington, DC, we never got a straight answer, we never got a consistent approach,” he said.

Indiana-based company Aria Diagnostics will donate 50,000 test kits to the city and officials will then buy the same amount every week from the Midwestern firm starting Monday, April 20. This will provide the city with a reliable source of the kits for the first time since the pandemic started, according to the mayor.

De Blasio also wants to launch the city’s own production of the kits, with university and commercial labs producing the testing solution, while asking manufacturers and 3D printers to make the swabs and storage tubes, starting some time in May.

The mayor’s press office did not immediately return a request for comment as to which new parties will be making these resources or how much the city will pay them for it. 

The mayor said that while the city has shown how it can start producing its own tests, the federal government is not off the hook and that more kits will be needed to overcome this health crisis. He also called on more companies citywide to help out by emailing [email protected]

“[The feds] still have to come through now, because the amount of testing we’re going to need, the amount of testing we’re going to need all over the country is vast,” he said.