Life after coronavirus: Petaluma plastics company builds future office barriers one a a time

Of all the places to fight COVID-19, how about a nondescript building in Petaluma? Believe it... Though not even the people at Architectural Plastics did at first.

"Had you expected this?" we asked CEO Blake Miremont.

"Not in a million years"

It took a pandemic, and for Blake, a rapid pivot of technical skills from fabricating acrylic wine racks and display cases, to the stuff of fighting a virus.

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They began with face masks, 80,000 of them. Blake worked the design on his compute, and now his small company of 13 people produces it.

"First responders and front liners need protection," said Dave Porter as he ran the machine. "It's not perfect but at least it's something."

The staff here already works 18 hour days, seven days a week. And yet, these masks take less than a one minute to assemble.

"Where does the mind go when assembling a mask?" we asked Michael Tolson, the Lead Glue Room Fabricator.

"Put on the radio. Get in the zone. Crank them out as fast as you can."

While the masks came first, plastic barriers have followed in countless practical iterations for banks, restaurants, you name it. And each has a slightly different design.

Some hang from the ceiling. Others sit on counters.

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"These are for slot machines. Casinos," said Blake while holding a large, curved piece with room for electronic cables at the bottom.

"They keep people separated while breathing on each other."

"You can't just put up a piece of plastic and call it day?"

"Apparently not. Part of it is protection but it also has to be aesthetic."

How ironic that after humanity spent millenniums trying to break down barriers, now we can thank COVID-19 for putting them up again... everywhere.

"This is our immediate future," said Blake. "Plastic social distancing guards."

It's a boon for the plastics industry, no doubt. Not that Blake and his co-workers are happy about all the coming work. "I hope when the vaccine comes this will be superfluous."

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