Mask makers sew community threads

Local quilter Robin Fouquette has been fabricating homemade masks for area distribution and donation.

While debate on the usability and effectiveness of the public wearing masks continues at the national level, local area volunteers have been busily producing hand-sewn masks and distributing them to the community.

“I’ve been making masks every single day [since March 10] and just handing them out to individuals and businesses,” said Robin Fouquette, a Cottage Grove quilter with the Eugene-based Pioneer Quilters group.

So far, Fouquette estimates she’s distributed 75 masks in the area and has another 25 ready to be handed out by the end of the week.

Though these homemade masks do not rise to the standards of surgical masks worn by health workers, they can be used individually or as a reusable cover over higher quality medical masks, Fouquette said.

“Originally, the hospitals didn’t want them, but then they ran out of masks and the call came out to have quilters make masks,” she said. “First the Eugene Mission reached out to Emerald Valley Quilters in Eugene and then the hospital set up a coordinating team to work with the sewers in the area to make these covers.”

Last week, a spokesperson for PeaceHealth Oregon stated that there was “an appropriate supply of masks” in the supply chain, but hospitals are accepting the hand-sewn masks for future use and has set up a process to accept donations of supplies. PeaceHealth has also provided instructions for making a “community face mask” on its website.

While these community-made masks are partially intended to provide an added layer of protection for health care workers, Fouquette has also been distributing masks to local establishments such as Walgreens, Apothecaria and Magnolia Gardens Senior Living. She also hands them out to individuals any chance she gets.

“I put out a little sign in front of my house that said, ‘free face masks,’ and a number of them disappeared from the box,” she said.

Fouquette has been following PeaceHealth’s instructions to construct masks, which are 100 per-cent cotton, and she’s hopeful more volunteers in the community will jump on the bandwagon.

“You don’t have to be an expert to do this. There are several very easy patterns out there,” she said. Along with a sewing machine, “All you need is an iron to iron the ties and you need about a half-yard of fabric.”

Fouquette recommends searching Youtube for tutorials to learn how to make them at home.

“If they have access to a pattern and they watch a tutorial on Youtube, they will be able to create something for everyone in their family,” she said.

Fouquette reckons she can make about a dozen masks a day.

“I’m getting faster and faster, but each one does take significant time to make,” she said.

To reuse a homemade mask, it is recommended they are washed in hot, soapy water.

Further, “Wearing this mask does not prevent COVID-19,” Fouquette warned. “It helps protect, that’s all.”

This is still a point of ambiguity for many and aided in no small part by the lack of a consistent message from the nation’s authorities.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has categorized homemade masks as a “last resort” for health care workers should supplies run critically low, but no consensus seems to have been reached on their efficacy for the general public. 

To add to the confusion, on Monday, The Washington Post reported that the CDC was considering altering recommendations to encourage people to cover their faces, though the organization has yet to make an official announcement.

Currently, the CDC states that surgical N95 masks (also referred to as medical respirators) are recommended only for use by healthcare personnel who need protection and are not needed outside of healthcare settings.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has stated that healthy people should wear a medical mask only if taking care of someone suspected of contracting COVID-19 or if they are coughing or sneezing. Mask use is also strongly recommended to be done in combination with frequent hand-cleaning.

Amid the lack of clear guidance, many Americans have taken a scattershot approach by using homemade masks, scarves and bandanas while out in public.

The use of homemade masks also touches on the concern of supply shortages for health care workers.

A general lack of supply-side preparedness to handle a national outbreak of the magnitude caused by COVID-19 has prompted the CDC to provide health care providers with guidelines in the case of shortages.

The United States Food and Drug Administration, too, has acknowledged a current strain on supplies and recommends conservation strategies to providers.

As authorities weigh the efficacy and usefulness of homemade masks and their role in checking shortages, local community members continue to fabricate masks for general use.

PeaceHealth instructions for making a mask can be found at:  www.peacehealth.org/sites/default/files/peacehealth_instructions_community_mask_3.25.20_1.pdf. 

Before donating masks or other supplies, the public is advised to call ahead to where they’d like to donate and confirm requirements.

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