Several local physicians and concerned citizens have been putting their heads together and their sewing skills to work to make homemade masks for doctors and hospitals that are in short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Masks for Marshall County” — a volunteer effort to provide handmade masks to health care workers to do supply shortages — was started by Dr. Alicia Ewing, a pediatrician at Marshall County Pediatrics, and some of her friends and colleagues.
“Lots of people just started talking [about making masks], and we thought, ‘let’s have some collection sites and just try to do this the best we can,’” Ewing said. “It’s a bunch of people who thought there was a need.”
Ewing put out a call on the Masks for Marshall County Facebook page to all seamstresses in the area asking them to put their fingers to work making the much-needed masks. She said instructions on how to make a mask could be found at deaconess.com/How-to-make-a-Face-Mask.
A piece of fabric, elastic bands and sewing skills are all that would be needed to make a mask, according to the website’s instructions. Ewing encouraged people to use supplies they already have at home and not go shopping at stores. However, if supplies are needed, Wilsons Fabric in Boaz has started offering elastic and fabric designated for mask making, available for pickup when ordered through the business’ Facebook page.
Completed masks will need to be stored in a sealed or tied plastic bag, Ewing said. There will be a drive-thru drop off location at both First Baptist Church Boaz and First Baptist Church Guntersville, April 4, from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. for people to safely make their mask donations.
Health care and first responder organizations can send masks requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. Ewing said she has received more than 600 requests for masks so far. Some of the requests have been from hospitals, but the majority have been from nursing homes.
After they receive the masks, Ewing said they would be distributed to healthcare providers and first responders. Since the masks are machine washable, she said they have the advantage of being used multiple times.
“They need to be washed before being worn by whoever wears them, but laundering any materials effectively kills COVID-19,” she said. “It’s killed fairly easily with soap and water, so these are going to be reusable.”
Dr. Scott Harris, State Health Officer, recently answered questions about the use of handmade masks. He stated that homemade masks were not suitable for health care providers as personal protection equipment (PPE), nor were they able to protect individuals from contracting the virus. They can, however, be used by individuals who have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 as a way to prevent spreading the virus to those around them when they cough, he said.
“I totally agree with [Harris],” Ewing said. “These masks are not for people who are taking care of hospitalized patients who have COVID-19. They need N95 respirators, for sure.”
Ewing said many hospitals are doing a “great job” conserving their PPE while they hold out for more supplies, but smaller clinics, pharmacies and nursing homes may be much further down the line or not receive any new masks from the national stockpile.
Physicians where Ewing works have been placing surgical masks over their N95 masks to make them last longer. N95 masks — which block 95% of particulate — are the “gold standard” for health care workers in treating COVID-19, Ewing said.
“We don’t know how long [the pandemic] is going to last,” she said. “If you have an option between nothing and this, this is better than nothing.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has suggested doctors and patients without a mask could tie a bandana or scarf around their mouth as a last resort.
“If it’s coming down to tying a bandana around my face, I would like to do something a little bit better than that,” Ewing said.