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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

San Diego sportswear company goes from making triathlon gear to COVID-19 face masks

The reusable mask are so effective, they said, San Diego hospitals have already and gladly accepted hundreds.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A San Diego sportswear company is becoming the latest in a growing list of companies manufacturing face masks. Production of the masks began just days ago, but they're already being worn by medical workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

The local couple producing them isn't making any official claims about their effectiveness, but they do know the "specialized material" may be better than a lot of the stuff medical professionals are resorting to now.

“The CDC [is] recommending a cotton bandanna as a last resort. Desperate times call for desperate measures,” said Emilio De Soto.

Emilio and Tracey De Soto have brought their workers back from unemployment.

When the governor of California mandated that all non-essential companies be closed, Emilio flipped their San Diego sportswear company into an essential service.

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“You’ve basically got almost an entire seal,” Emilio demonstrated on a Zoom call.

De Soto Sport went from selling high-end apparel worn at international triathlons, to giving away breathable, adjustable face masks in the global battle against coronavirus.

“Seeing the desperation of individuals but also doctors, nurses, governor - we came up with a plan,” said Tracey.

“The medical community has told me over and over again, the masks are a priority for COVID-19,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in a press conference this week.

With hospitals on the East Coast running desperately short on personal protective equipment, about two dozen employees at De Soto Sport are now hard at work, sewing together pieces of stretchy synthetic-silk fabric. The face masks are multi-layered and washable.

“Knowing that it had very low absorbency, it's three layers,” Emilio demonstrated.

The reusable mask are so effective they said, San Diego hospitals have already and gladly accepted hundreds. But the plan is to send a bulk to New York, where the COVID-19 death toll just spiked 110% in 36 hours.

“We're just hoping it's not going be a long-lasting project because that would mean the world would be a little healthier,” said Emilio.

The masks haven’t been tested or FDA approved, but Emilio and Tracey do know doctors are already wearing them.

“Just to be a part of that process feels really good,” Tracey said.

And with March being the start of triathlon season, the company has enough of the material to make 50,000 masks in the coming months.