Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s Unified Command Group (UCG) is announcing two strategic partnerships today in the state’s COVID-19 re-opening effort to make sure Tennessee households and health care workers have protective face coverings and clean personal protective equipment.


“We’ve used private sector innovation, strategic partnerships, and state procurement efforts to make personal protective equipment available to front-line medical providers and first responders,” said Gov. Lee. “As we restart Tennessee’s economy, it’s very important we help Tennesseans feel safe as they go back to work or out to shop, and that our healthcare providers have sufficient personal protective equipment for their workers. We’re grateful to Renfro for their partnership in helping us keep Tennesseans safe.”


UCG is partnering with Renfro, Corp, a global sock brand company headquartered in Mount Airy, N.C., with a manufacturing and distribution operation in Cleveland, Tenn., to make washable, reusable cloth face masks available to as many Tennesseans as possible.


UCG is supplying the first 300,000 Renfro masks, based on population, to Tennessee’s county and municipal health departments this week. Each health department will receive at least 1,000 masks and will serve as a convenient pick up location for county residents who need masks.

“Tennesseans can now come to their local health department on any weekday to get a free cloth face mask,” UCG Director Stuart McWhorter said. “And while residents are at the health department, we would encourage them to get a free COVID-19 test, regardless of their symptoms, if they haven’t already done so.”


The mask distribution at county health departments is part of UCG’s first wave in a larger mask distribution effort in Tennessee with Renfro, which UCG will announce as details become final.


“For a century, Renfro has focused on manufacturing millions of pairs of socks every week at our facilities in Alabama and Tennessee,” said Stan Jewell, Renfro’s President and CEO. “Then in March, it became apparent that our design and manufacturing expertise could be used to provide millions of face masks to communities to help reduce the spread of COVID19. We have a long, distinguished history in Tennessee, and we are proud to partner with the State to equip all Tennesseans with a protective mask as part of the solution to combat COVID-19.”


UCG is also partnering with Battelle, a global research and development company in Columbus, Ohio, to provide an N95 respirator mask decontamination system and service to Tennessee health care providers to protect health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Battelle will locate one of 60 nationally deployed decontamination systems in Jackson, Tenn., as part of an effort to bring down the costs, and increase the availability of, N95 masks for health care providers.


The Battelle system uses hydrogen peroxide vapor in a 2.5-hour process that will remove biological contaminants, including the virus that causes COVID-19, from used N95 respirator masks.


“The Battelle service should relieve some of the demand pressure on N95 masks for Tennessee’s health care providers,” McWhorter said.  “Battelle’s associated costs for system staffing and training is provided through a number of federal grant sources, making the N95 mask decontamination service free to Tennessee health care providers.”


Health care providers will collect, label, and ship their used N95 masks daily to the Battelle site in Tennessee using a barcoded serial number for tracking. Battelle will decontaminate the masks and return directly to providers.  Battelle will also mark each mask with the number of times the mask has been through the decontamination process.


Tennessee health care providers must take care not to ship any N95 masks containing cosmetic residue to the Battelle service location.  The presence of cosmetic products on N95 masks will interfere with Battelle’s process and prevent proper decontamination.


More information for health care providers about the Battelle decontamination system is available at www.battelle.org/decon.