Not only is Illinois facing a shortage of surgical masks and respirators, so is the entire world. Bulk purchases of face masks have left many hospitals without the tools to effectively protect themselves and their patients. Those at the front lines—nurses, doctors, and health care workers—need this protective gear in order to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19. A few days ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a piece that suggested health-care personnel can create homemade masks as a crisis response to the shortage. This isn’t the first time DIY face masks have been called to action. In 2006, the CDC published a study on H5N1 which included a similar tactic for handmade face masks.
This news isn’t surprising, however, as U.S. surgeon generals warned the public in February to stop buying face masks, as they were straining the supply chain. American hospitals have taken a huge hit recently and although masks are only meant to be worn once and then thrown away, health-care professionals are given no choice but to rewear their supplies. As a result, hospitals are asking the public to donate materials.
In northwest Ohio, volunteer quilters from the Quilt Foundry are making around 5,000 masks to donate to hospitals who are running short on supplies. In Washington state, vinyl sheets, foam, and industrial tape are being used to create face shields as masks begin to disappear from hospitals. Last week, Rush University Medical Center began to use washable lab goggles for eye protection. Jackson Park Hospital nurses are refusing to enter rooms that don’t have masks. In McLeansboro, Hamilton Memorial Hospital is accepting fabric masks from community volunteers as disposable masks are back-ordered. They state that while fabric masks are less than ideal, it’s what they have to work with during this pandemic. Here in Hyde Park, locals are also banding together to create a similar impact.
Hyde Park resident and informed crafter Cheryl Miller says that “cloth masks made of two layers of cotton and fitting snugly can provide some protection from droplets in the air, and are better than no protection when a person has to get up close and personal in home health or other closer-than-six-feet situations, like shopping, riding the bus, etc.” Miller has been making masks for herself as well as for donation. “It’s reassuring to see other people wear masks too, and I believe homemade masks can help somewhat but my best efforts still aren’t as good as an N95,” she says. Therefore, social distancing is still the best measure to take during the pandemic, especially if wearing a homemade mask.
Dottie Jeffries is making masks and donating them to Montgomery Place, home to 200 older adults, in Hyde Park. She’s working with new and old T-shirts and pillowcases based on the recommendation and data found by Smart Air. “I have also read that flannel works well for the side of the mask that is against one’s face, but at the moment, I don’t have any flannel,” she says. For Jeffries, the hardest part of making and donating masks has been threading the needle. “I had not used my machine for 15 years,” she says. “So now I’m 15 years older!”
President and CEO of Illinois Health and Hospital Association asked the state to donate their inventory of N95 masks to their local hospitals, which number more than 200 statewide. “We urgently need to find alternative supplies, no matter where they are, so our hospitals can continue to provide life-saving care to current and future COVID-19 patients,” he said in a statement. Although Trump and Pence said they would be sending tens of millions more masks to hospitals, it’s unknown when they will actually arrive and be delivered. As a result, the public has to step up. Only on Friday, a 38-year-old woman was charged with stealing breathing masks, hand sanitizer, breathing aspirators, gloves, disinfectant wipes, and much more from the University of Chicago Medical Center. Doctors and hospitals have started to tweet to the public asking for help during the supply shortage, calling all seamstresses, makers, crafters, or DIYers to get your hands ready for some mask-making.
FreeSewing released a COVID-19 face mask pattern for the public to easily download and create masks either for themselves or for the general public (they also have an active help chat room). The Netherlands-based project is run by Joost De Cock, whose wife is a surgeon and began to see the shortages of masks in hospitals. The duo posted a call for makers and provided a one-page PDF of a face-mask pattern.
So, how legit is a handmade fabric N95 face mask? While it is a last resort, it is entirely legit. Old fashioned? Sure. “Prior to modern disposable masks, washable fabric masks were standard use for hospitals,” says Dawn Rogers, a nurse practitioner from Deaconess Hospital’s Patient Safety & Infection Prevention Office. “We will be able to sterilize these masks and use them repeatedly as needed. While it’s less than ideal, we want to do our best to protect our staff and patients during this pandemic.” Not all face masks are created equal. Emily Landon, the medical director for infection control at the U. of C. told CNBC, “First of all, there are multiple different kinds of face masks. There is the surgical mask that people wear that doesn’t really seal up very well. That’s super good if you put it on the patient who’s sick because that will contain their secretions and protect everyone around them.” However, if you want to protect others during this crisis, going old school may be the only option.
Data has found that homemade masks captured 50 percent of virus particles or more. Double-layering masks doesn’t help too much. Materials like tea towels, T-shirts, dish towels, and vacuum cleaner bags are the best-performing materials for a face mask; however, they are harder to breathe in. The priority is having some type of face shield that covers the entire front of the face, the chin, and the sides of the face.
People wearing masks must wash them after one use, but right now, hospitals are in crisis mode (the CDC recommended health-care personnel wear bandanas or scarves). With millions of masks needed, people are stepping up and toward their sewing machines.
If you want to donate masks to Hamilton Memorial Hospital, call Bethany Reyling, Marketing & PR Manager, at 618-838-0857 to arrange a time for drop-off. All masks will be sent to the laundry.
The University of Chicago is in need of nitrile exam gloves, face shields, cotton swabs, and goggles. Drop off items at KCBD Room 1220, M–F 8 AM–4 PM. Keep track of items you dropped off by using this tracking form.
SwedishAmerican Hospital is in need of Olson masks. 1401 E. State, Rockford. Drop items off at the SwedishAmerican Emergency Room.
To donate to Montgomery Place, 5550 S. Shore, call 773-753-4100 ahead of time and have them meet the deliverer outside. v