DIYers Stitch Up to Help Fight Shortage of Medical Masks

The clock is ticking and, with each passing day, the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus increases in the United States.

In fact, according to The New York Times, at least 81,000 people are know to have been infected in the United States, including more than 1,000 deaths. It is more cases than any other country has seen.

In Alabama, four people have died, including one in Madison County.

As hospitals face the crisis head-on, there’s a shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), especially masks. Without adequate protection, health care providers are fighting the battle as if walking a greased tightrope without a safety net.

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency has a strategic reserve of masks, hospital officials are concerned that the stockpiles will soon be depleted.

Getting new masks has become a real challenge for those on the front lines of patient care. At the national level, there have been numerous accounts of medical staff rationing and reusing the scant supplies that they do have. This practice comes with its own set of risks.

To help address the mask shortage, doctors, nurses and hospitals throughout the United States have reached to social media.

They have targeted their appeal to the creative types that know their way around a sewing machine; those restless souls with time on their hands and a desire to give, and to those who desperately need a news break – during one of the most challenging times our nation has faced in recent history.

Deaconess Health System in Evansville, Ind., is one of the many examples of a medical establishment relying on Facebook in their efforts to get DIY face masks.

The data regarding whether DIY masks are effective or even useful is mixed, with as many opinions on the matter as are there are patterns to make the masks.

On its website under “Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of Facemasks,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that a homemade mask is an acceptable last resort. A DIY mask is better than no protection at all.

In response to the DIY mask appeal, a national movement emerged.

Seemingly overnight, seamstresses throughout the United States began mobilizing their efforts in a very short period of time.

Here in Huntsville, the DIY mask making effort has taken off like a rocket.

Lisa Ordway, costume mistress for the Huntsville Ballet, was one of the first to step up to the presser foot.

“I started reading all about it, there’s a program out West, it was very well organized,” said Ordway, referring to Washington State Hospital’s ‘100 Million Mask Challenge.’ “I don’t know if we’re quite in their situation, but we could be and we may as well get ahead of the curve.”

Once word got out that Ordway was making masks, she became the overnight go-to resource; her text, e-mail, and Facebook site were deluged with inquiries. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

Ordway took the Deaconess pattern and made a few design modifications; to improve fit and to accommodate a filter insert.

“We started out one way, making masks with elastic going around the ears,” said Ordway.

After nurses at Madison Hospital received the first batch, they expressed a need for wiring for the top part above the nose and to replace the elastic with ties, both features designed to ensure a more secure fit.

“So, we changed directions and did that,” said Ordway. “And we added a pocket for them to be able to put a filter in.”

Ordway’s modified version of the DIY mask can be found at www.facebook.com/lisa.g.ordway.

Local quilter Rhoda Johnson took on the DIY mask cause after reading various social media appeals from quilting guilds across the country.

Local quilter Rhoda Johnson used a variety of whimsically patterned fabrics to create masks for the staff at Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children.

Using a variety of whimsically patterned fabrics, Johnson plans to deliver her finished DIY masks to Huntsville Hospital for Women and Children. She said the masks can be worn over the PPE masks; the bright and fun DIY masks might bring a smile to the pediatric patients’ faces.

At last count, Johnson had 205 masks cut, stitched and pleated; all waiting for the elastic to be added.

Due to an online supply stock out, Johnson quickly shifted gears and began creating pairs of 22-inch ties to replace the elastic, using fabric already on hand. Johnson used the Deaconess pattern to make the masks at www.deaconess.com/masks.

YoungSu Hoy and Portia Stanley, ICU nurses at Crestwood Medical Center, have also gotten involved in the DIY mask-making effort.

Although Hoy said Crestwood’s PPE supply is adequate, “we’re trying to be prepared with different options in a worst-case scenario.” The pattern that Hoy and Stanley are using can be found at https://youtu.be/BCJcE-r7kcg

Hoy anticipates that their finished masks are more likely to be distributed among the civilian population, as opposed to the front line medical personnel.

“I do know some citizens are wanting them,” said Hoy. “I’ll bet nursing homes would appreciate them, too.”