MALONE –– With the number of COVID-19 coronavirus cases escalating dramatically and health care organizations scrambling to find enough personal protective equipment to safeguard their staffs, a number of people around Franklin County who are handy with a sewing needle have stepped up to help those who feel the need for more protection against the disease.
“The North Country is full of crafty people,” said Wendy Harrington, one of several people who is sewing face masks to help take the pressure off the supply of surgical equipment. “Those of us who sew have a lot of fabric and supplies in hand at all times.”
“It kind of caught on all around,” said Mary Ann Gokey.
Harrington said those making the masks know that they won’t substitute for the N95 respirator masks hospitals need or even for surgical masks, but their efforts will help reduce the demand for the latter among the general public.
The masks being made will “free up better masks for much more critical uses,” she said.
The fabric ones are better than nothing,” Gokey said. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are even recommending people use bandanas as a last resort if no masks are available.
“In settings where N95 respirators are so limited that routinely practiced standards of care for wearing N95 respirators and equivalent or higher level of protection respirators are no longer possible, and surgical masks are not available, as a last resort, it may be necessary for HCP to use masks that have never been evaluated or approved by NIOSH or homemade masks,” the CDC says on its website. “It may be considered to use these masks for care of patients with COVID-19, tuberculosis, measles, and varicella. However, caution should be exercised when considering this option.”
Alice Hyde Medical Center Senior Vice President/Chief Operating Office Matt Jones said the hospital currently can’t use the masks, but that hospital staff appreciate the community effort.
“Regarding the homemade masks, at this time, we are unable to use them at the hospital or Skilled Nursing Facility, but we will be working with other community organizations that might be able to use them,” Jones said in an email to The Telgram. “We appreciate all of the community support around this endeavor. Our local community is tight knit and the people of this community always look to come together in support during difficult times just like this one.
“Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is something that every hospital is monitoring and working on daily,” Jones continued. “There are continued needs for additional PPE at Alice Hyde and throughout the state and country. We monitor our supply by the number of days on hand that we could meet our current needs. We continue to work with our vendors, state and county officials to secure additional PPE needs. Following the changing CDC and WHO guidelines is an important part of our efforts, and our first priority is to protect our front line staff and conserve PPE where we can.”
Harrington said she was inspired to get involved after watching a YouTube video made in Cleveland, where medical facilities are running out of masks. The video showed people how to make the masks and called for people to get involved in the project in their community.
“It’s kind of inspiring,” she said.
Gokey said she has already given away more than two dozen masks to people who request them, including to a medical transport driver and some home care workers. “As fast as I make them, I’m giving them to people,” she said.
Harrington said rather than distributing masks individually, she is working with others to collect a large number that can be given to agencies that can in turn distribute them to staff and clients. She urged people making masks to pack them in sanitized bags and leave them on porches for others to collect –– both to cut down on the number of people out and about and to eliminate person-to-person contact as much as possible.
“It’s scary days,” Harrington said. “Instead of thinking about what’s wrong, we’re doing something positive,” she said.
“You might as well get out and sew.”