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Community group sewing surgical masks for healthcare workers

 

An ever expanding group of people who want to use their time productively while staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic are making protective masks for local healthcare workers.

A Facebook group named “Masks for our healthcare workers Danville/Boyle County” was formed Friday afternoon and already has well over 300 members who are sharing patterns, fabric and tips on how to sew reusable cloth surgical masks and where to find much needed supplies like elastic, binding and replaceable filters.

The network of sewers and planners want to make and donate at least 500 masks, said one of the group’s organizers, Susan Weston. Even though they don’t sew, Weston and her social media friend, Shannon Scott, saw the need to have communication between people wanting to make the masks and what the healthcare community was asking for, Weston said.

“We’re trying to figure ways how we can help in a difficult situation,” Weston said.

Local anesthesiologist Perry Major, tries out a mask that covers an N95 mask before surgery that his wife, Donna Majors made for him. (Photo submitted)

“We’re going to keep finding questions and puzzling through them, because we really are building the plane as we fly. Let’s do the best we can for the great medical folks who need us in an emergency!” Weston wrote in a post.

After consulting with local obstetrics and gynecology physician Anne Turcea about what type of masks and features would be the most useful to healthcare workers, Weston and Scott found patterns and have posted a video to the website showing how to make the masks.

On Tuesday, Turcea wrote in a post, “I’m in the OR today and as heavy as the mood is people are smiling and thanking me for this group. It means so much to so many that people are willing to take the time, resources and care for our medical community.

Stay home and encourage others to do so, please. That would mean a lot to us too.”

There are two ways these homemade masks can be useful, Weston said. First, they can be worn overtop of the N95 masks, which are the most effective but scarce due to demand. 

This added layer allows the N95 mask to last longer. She said when the cloth mask gets contaminated, it can be easily taken off and another put in its place, instead of having to throw the N95 mask away.

Lula Warlick, 9, works on sewing cotton surgical masks, with her mom, Christine Trevino. (Photo submitted)

Second, many masks the sewers are making now have a pocket where a filter can be placed. “That’s what the hospital folks are saying” they need, Weston said. And hospital officials are researching what would be the best type of filters to use under these unusual circumstances.

Scott said she hasn’t sewn since home economics class. But she can work on social media and connect people who sew and who want to donate supplies and deliver the masks. “It’s just wonderful.”

Bluebird Market manager Beth Marlowe posted that the shop will donate all of its fabric and sewing supplies to whoever wants to make masks.

One of the group’s members has also coordinated an online spreadsheet for supply needs and another one for donations being made, Scott said.

When people feel like things are out of control and can’t do anything about it and are being told to stay home, “This will help,” Scott added.

The initial project was started to help supply Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center with extra masks, she said. But since it’s a regional hospital, with regional clinics and other hospitals, the quantity of homemade masks are being distributed throughout the medical system.

Christine Trevino models a face mask she made to give to healthcare workers in the area. (Photo submitted)

Some people in the group are making the masks for their friends working in the health-care industry, and for elderly neighbors who may be at most risk of contracting the virus, Scott said. Some of the local veterinarians donated their mask supplies to the hospital, so some of the homemade masks are going to them too, Scott said.

As time passes and the word gets out about the community project, “More needs are coming out of the woodwork,” she said.

Just over the course of three days, the mask patterns have been tweaked. Instead of elastic bands to go over ears to keep the masks in place, it’s been determined that ties work much better and can stand up to many washings. 

Scott said reading the posts from everyone working from their homes on the same project with the same goal, “is heartwarming.”

“There are multi-generational families working together, kids, moms and grandmas,” Scott said. “That’s really sweet. I really like that.”

 

SO YOU KNOW 

The Facebook group is named Masks For Our Healthcare Workers Danville/Boyle County. https://www.facebook.com/groups/2632422163746919/