Local sewing groups step up for responders, community members
Last updated 4/16/2020 at 10:12am
As the COVID-19 pandemic has worn on, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has done an about face and is now recommending face coverings and masks for not only medical personnel and patients, but for workers dealing with the public and even average Americans, particularly in hard hit areas.
As coronavirus patients began to mount last month, demand for masks soon exceeded supply, and it fell to people with a knack for sewing to fill the void.
In the Upper Blackfoot Valley, at least two sewing clubs have been quietly making masks for anyone who may need them.
A recent call for help from the Lincoln Volunteer Ambulance brought their efforts to light. In the last week or so, Lincoln's Rippin' Stitchers sewing group and Ovando's Sew and So Club have delivered dozens of homemade masks to the LVA, Lincoln Fire and Rescue and others.
Dena Hooker of Ovando had been making masks for a couple weeks when she learned of the LVA's need, and within a week she had 25 ready to go.
"They're pretty easy to make. I've got lots of scrap fabric at home I can make them out of." She said. "If you're going to be stuck at home. You might as well be doing something constructive."
Hooker has also made masks for Leigh Ann Valiton of the Blackfoot Commercial Company, who has been helping with grocery shopping for folks in the community, and she sent a dozen to Missoula electric Co-op employees.
Hooker said five or six members of the Sew and So club have made masks for the Ovando Fire Department and anyone else in the community who needs them.
In Lincoln, Jesse Sallin credits Rosaire Hoffman with getting the ball rolling.
Sallin, well known locally for her prodigious quilting and sewing, had already worked with nurse Jennifer Wiederhold to donate several heavy receiving blankets to St. Peters Hospital in Helena, for use as lap quilts. "I had some on hand, so why not? It's better than them sitting in my back bedroom. People can use them that way."
She and other members of the group followed Rosaire's lead and began making masks a couple weeks ago, using three different patterns, including one provided by St. Peters.
"I've made 65 masks so far," Sallin said, adding that masks made by the clubs members have gone to help folks in several harder hit states, as well as to locals in need of them. She said Lincoln Fire Chief Zach Muse picked up 30 from the club for Lincoln's Quick Response Unit and the ambulance.
"It's really appreciated," said Aaron Birkholz, the president of the Lincoln Volunteer Ambulance. "I think we've received probably 50 or 60 homemade masks."
With the current supply of masks and a recent success in finally getting Amazon to recognize the LVA as an essential medical service for ordering equipment, Birkholz said the groups making masks can now concentrate on getting them to anyone else in the surrounding communities who will wear one.
Sallin said she thinks the hardest part about the masks is to just get people to "wear the darn things."
"Everyone should be wearing masks when you're out and about, going into the store or anything," said Birkholz, who expects to see cases increase again once the stay-at-home restrictions are lifted. He explained it's not just to protect the wearer. "We're finding out there are a lot of people who have it but don't even show any symptoms, but they can still spread it. Masks are not necessarily to protect you from it coming in, it's protecting you from sending it out."
The mask designs being made locally have a space between the inner and outer layers for a filter. Birkholz recommends using HEPA vacuum filters, but other materials like polypropylene HEPA vacuum bags and nonwoven blue shop towels are also reportedly effective. Coffee filters are less effective, but can be used if nothing else is available.
"The big thing with the mask is you need to make sure your hands are clean when you touch them. Wash your hands, put your mask on and don't touch your mask until you get home, and wash your hands again," Birkholz said.
Keeping masks sanitized is also important
"If you can soak them in your sink, any type of soap can dissolve this coronavirus pretty fast," Birkholz said.
Masks that can get wet or that aren't worn daily can also be sanitized by putting them in a bag for 72 hours. After three days, any coronavirus present will be dead. Microwaving masks to sanitize them is a bad idea and a fire hazard, since most include some metal to help them fit over the nose.