Community-wide mask-making effort meets a crucial need
Like a cottage industry that sprang up overnight, a community-wide effort to make protective face masks has engaged sewing machines in dozens of homes around the Methow Valley.
Faced with a shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), clinics, hospitals, law enforcement teams and other public health facilities have begun accepting donations of PPE from citizens, from N95 respirator masks people had purchased to mitigate wildfire smoke inhalation to boxes of gloves to homemade isolation gowns to the reusable cotton face masks that the valley has mobilized to produce.
“People want to do something to help,” says Dr. Ann Diamond, who is a co-organizer of Methow Valley PPE: one of the many medical mask-sewing initiatives taking place around the valley (as well as around the state, nation, and world). “It’s like planting a victory garden in the World Wars: something tangible that regular people can contribute to the effort.”
About two weeks ago Diamond and three other Methow Valley residents — Joanne Hunold, Mary Jane Perry and Lynette Westendorf — began coordinating a strategic central response to the myriad mask-making efforts already underway in the valley, many of which had originated from friends and family members of local residents asking for donations of new and homemade face masks.
• Interested sewers: email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Confluence Health and Family Health Centers are accepting donations of homemade face masks and other essentials including hand sanitizer, click or call (509) 436-6275.
“Our original intent was to solicit enough homemade masks to fill the needs in and around the valley,” says Diamond. “We spoke with the Winthrop Clinic, the Twisp Family Health Center, Three Rivers Hospital, Aero Methow, Jamie’s Place, the Okanogan County jail, and the Twisp Police Department. All said they anticipated PPE shortages and would welcome homemade mask donations.”
Getting the pattern
Foreseeing an outpouring of support from crafty valley residents, Diamond contacted Confluence Health in Wenatchee and asked about their specifications for mask donations, so that masks that were not needed in the Methow Valley could address potential shortages in Wenatchee. Methow Valley PPE then adopted a mask pattern that meets Confluence Health’s standards. The pattern, as well as an instructional video, can be found at www.confluencehealth.org/covid19-donations.
Methow Valley PPE’s response includes a website, which Hunold designed and launched in about three days; communication with the medical workplaces and other facilities that need masks; patterns and instructions for sewers; and mask collection from three drop-off sites around the valley: the Mazama Store, Winthrop Town Hall and the Twisp Valley Grange. A Pateros drop site is under consideration as well.
Retired University of Maine oceanographer and professor emerita Perry, an experienced logistical coordinator of operations and supplies for ships at sea, is creating systems for tracking mask collection and distribution throughout the region.
Says Westendorf, who is in charge of the sewing branch of Methow Valley PPE, “Sewers can stitch masks at home, wash, dry and bag the masks, and deliver to drop zones. Methow Valley PPE will then sort and deliver the bagged masks to the facilities that request them.” As of March 30, 261 masks have been collected from the valley’s three drop locations.
At first glance, it may seem ludicrous that medical and emergency support facilities are reduced to wearing PPE made in unregulated conditions in private homes. Diamond, however, points out that most of the masks will be used primarily for community members: patients coughing in clinic waiting rooms or in jails, for example. “Will ICU nurses and ER doctors be wearing these masks? No,” says Diamond. “The homemade masks serve the community needs, allowing the regulation PPE to be reserved for those performing the riskiest procedures: ICU intubations and monitoring ventilators.”
The medical personnel who are at the greatest risk of contracting COVID-19 from infected patients will (ideally) have continued access to regulation PPE. Westendorf notes that in addition to serving in-house needs, the donated masks will enable clinics and other facilities to distribute masks to community members who need them without reducing their own stockpiles.
A seamstress herself, Westendorf is aware of dozens of people around the valley sewing masks, and welcomes the involvement of more sewers. Those interested in participating through Methow Valley PPE can email email@example.com for more information.
Addressing the need
The need for homemade masks will, unfortunately, not abate for quite some time, says Diamond. Jonathan Baker, founder and owner of eqpd, which makes reusable bags in a TwispWorks workshop, plans to address this long-term need through his design and fabrication studio. Baker says that he is “putting together a plan with an amazing cross-section of community members” like the Methow Valley PPE team and will be releasing details in the weeks to come.
Diamond says that Baker’s plan to industrialize home mask-making systems will advance the effort in a meaningful way. “The COVID-19 case surge in our area is projected to come around the end of April,” says Diamond. “The involvement of eqpd could make a significant difference.”
Diamond notes that wearing a face mask is no guarantee against COVID-19 infection, but that masks are one more tool that, when employed properly and consistently, can serve as a barrier against the spread of the coronavirus. “How you wear a mask matters,” Diamond says. “If you’re working around a contaminated person and you have the virus on your hands, then you put on your mask with your hands, you are placing a contaminated mask directly on your nose and mouth. You need to know which is the front, and which is the back, of the mask and don’t reverse it. Pick up the mask by the ties or the elastic, not by the fabric.”
Diamond also reminds people that heeding the public health warnings we’ve been receiving for weeks is the best protection against the spread of the coronavirus: limit social contact, wash your hands frequently, and don’t touch your face.