Iowa Falls dentist Dr. Mike Colwell knew he had a problem.
On May 6, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds had announced dentist offices could reopen for non-essential procedures on May 8. The problem was the more stringent safety requirements imposed by the Iowa Dental Board, mainly the requirement to have a reliable source of personal protective equipment (PPE).
After a conference call with multiple other Iowa Falls dentists, he took a shot and called Lari Rabe, president of Agri-Pro Enterprises in Iowa Falls. It turned out to be a good idea.
"What was just tremendously helpful for us was Lari Rabe came through with the N95 masks, because we just couldn't get them," Colwell said. "I know other dentists got them from her as well."
In fact, all three dentist offices in Iowa Falls were able to secure enough masks - about 100 each - to open their doors in the near future.
Agri-Pro Enterprises has sold biosecurity masks since 1991, mostly to the food and animal industries. But the advent of COVID-19 has severely increased demand.
"We've seen an increased demand for them," Rabe said. "Those and gloves are really hard to get, but we have continual shipments coming in and as soon as we get them we send them right back out."
Rabe said they're still shipping masks all over the country to businesses they've contracted with, so the supply for local businesses isn't infinite. Still, when she heard about the dentists' needs she knew something had to be done.
"Obviously, being able to help the dentists open and feel comfortable and safe," she said. "When Mike Colwell called me I thought, 'We really need to do something here.' He was so gracious and thankful."
In addition to helping local dentists, Agri-Pro Enterprises has also been supplying Iowa Select Farms and has sold Hardin County Emergency Management about 800 masks.
Thomas Craighton, Hardin County Emergency Management coordinator, said the masks from Rabe are technically supplemental to the supply they get from the state, but that doesn't mean they're not needed.
"We're going week to week (right now)," Craighton said. "Those masks are distributed to all the local health care facilities and the (county) jail."
The masks being distributed by Agri-Pro Enterprises is of high quality. Rabe said she's chosen to stay with the Moldex brand out of loyalty and the high quality of the product.
"There's a lot of China knockoffs out there and we could bring those in, but I won't," she said. "We decided you just don't know what you're getting."
Craighton encouraged everyone to wear a mask in public, even if the only access to a mask is a homemade cloth version.
*Masks for the general public are not available at Agri-Pro Enterprises.