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Shop owner designs mask made from vacuum cleaner bags, volunteers turning out thousands

Trevor Hanson's Willmar vacuum cleaner shop is now a hub of mask making.

WILLMAR, Minn. — By now we can all agree that COVID-19 sucks.    

The owner of AB Vacuum Center in Willmar concurs.

“It's a tough deal for everybody,” Trevor Hanson says.

Hanson leaned in upon hearing of shortages of masks for health care workers.

“I've made the joke a number of times, that I've watched too much MacGyver growing up,” Hanson laughs.  

Hanson knew that masks filter.

But, he reasoned, vacuum cleaner bags filter too.    

“So, this is a finished mask,” he says, holding up his pleated creation - a mask made from a vacuum cleaner bag.

“I sat down and made about 25 prototypes,” he says. “Just trying to come up with the best design.”

Then, Hanson recruited more than 40 volunteers working in their homes across the Willmar area - cutters, making five masks per bag, and sewers, including Hanson’s mom.

In 36 hours, Hanson’s volunteers have completed 2,200 masks – with more bags on the way to complete 2,200 more.

His phone has already started ringing, mostly from nursing homes concerned they may run out of medical masks.

“The first nursing home that called me said, we are either going to have a choice of wearing your masks or no masks,” Hanson says.

Though N95 masks are preferred, a University of Minnesota professor says there could be uses for alternatives in extreme times. “Even the CDC will say something is better than nothing,” John Bischof says. 

Bischof is director of the U of M's Institute for Engineering in Medicine – which has designed a mask made of a different filtration material.

Recent tests of the material in a U of M lab found it to be close to N95 standards.  

More of the filtering material, donated by Cummins Filtration, is on its way to the U of M from South Korea.

“We hope one day soon we might be able to scale up to thousands of masks here,” Bischof said in a video chat with KARE 11.

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Nearby, Hanson looked on at the laptop screen set up on a chair in his shop

“I can't quite see you Trevor, but I think what you're doing is awesome,” Bischof told the vacuum cleaner store owner.

At the professor's invitation, Hanson will be sending one of his masks to the U of M for testing.

“When I tell the team up here about you, they are going to be tickled and super excited,” Bischof told Hanson. .

Hanson has already donated $1,100 dollars’ worth of his own bag supply and recently ordered more.

“If I wasn’t doing it, I would almost feel guilty,” the innovative vacuum cleaner shop owner, says. “Knowing that we have this, we should be doing it."

Ingenuity - filling a vacuum.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Trevor Hanson has created a Facebook page with information about the ongoing mask-making in Willmar.

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