CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa seeking bids for branded face masks

Cloth coverings 'would be used by employees and students'

Hawkeye logo
Hawkeye logo

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa — preparing for a new normal across campus this fall — is seeking a supplier to make up to 10,000 UI-branded cloth masks or other face and neck coverings.

The UI recently issued a call for proposals for the Hawkeye-branded coverings — as masks and the like have been advised, urged and even mandated by local, state and national experts to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

All three of Iowa’s public universities — which vacated their campuses mid-March and moved instruction online — are preparing for a return to campus this fall by imposing new and widespread safety measures.

UI planners, among other things, are considering how to house students in residence halls, how to offer face-to-face instruction in lecture halls and how to manage communal spaces like dining halls.

As part of those considerations, they’re discussing new custodial protocols and how to make sure “we have adequate protective equipment and cleaning supplies on hand.”

Iowa State, in phasing faculty and staff back to campus this summer, announced faculty and staff will be expected — if they can — to don face coverings or shields starting June 1 when social distancing and other strategies aren’t possible.

The University of Iowa sent out its bid request Thursday, requiring responses by May 29. It says the UI is interested in buying up to 10,000 individual face coverings “with the option to purchase additional products in the future.”

Coverings include masks, neck gaiters or tubes and are to be created using the UI brand.

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“These would be used by employees and students,” according to the UI request for proposals, which did not specify whether the campus would sell the products or distribute them for free. UI officials did not answer that question from The Gazette.

Any winning bidder must obtain approval through Iowa’s licensing department to legally use UI brands.

According to bid specifications, the face masks must be cloth, washable, breathable and adjustable and meet U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for face coverings — including that they fit snugly but comfortably, have multiple layers of fabric and are secured with ties or ear loops.

CDC guidance urges face coverings be worn in public settings where social distancing is difficult — like grocery stores — noting doing so can help slow coronavirus spread.

Because the university is interested in “non-medical” coverings for its faculty, staff and students, the coverings don’t have to be meet the more rigorous standards of the Food and Drug Administration.

The university bid request gives suppliers freedom to design “all other aspects of the face covering,” including size, cloth, color and the like.

“Suppliers are expected to submit pictures of the design or actual picture of each product being proposed,” according to the UI request.

The initial term of any agreement would be one year — although the deal could be extended for four additional one-year periods, according to the UI request.

The university also could award contracts or come to agreements with multiple bidders.

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As more Iowans have started wearing masks, Iowa-branded masks have been popping up for sale online, including on sites like Etsy, where one person is selling both Hawkeye and Cyclone masks for $8 each, with hundreds of sales.

Iowa State and the University of Northern Iowa have not issued similar requests for proposals related to university-branded face coverings.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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