Copperas Cove, area locals sew masks to bolster supply of PPE for hospitals
By BRITTANY FHOLER
As healthcare professionals deal with the COVID-19 pandemic across the state and nation, they are facing another issue- a shortage of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) to protect them from the virus as they tend to patients.
Nurses at some hospitals are being told to make their one N95 respirator or surgical pleated mask last their whole 12-hour shift, if not longer.
On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced in a press conference that the newly established Supply Chain Strike Force had already secured more than $83 million of purchase orders for essential supplies and that the Texas Division of Emergency Management would begin receiving 100,000 masks per day by the end of this week as well as the Supply Chain Strike Force receiving an additional 100,000 masks per day by the end of next week, totaling more than one million masks per week.
On the federal level, Vice President Mike Pence announced that manufacturers 3M and Honeywell would soon begin selling industrial masks directly to healthcare facilities.
In the meantime, concerned citizens across the nation, and even right here in Copperas Cove, have stepped up to sew masks for healthcare providers and patients to use in place of and in addition to the standard masks.
Fabric masks are not meant to replace the surgical face masks, which provide a barrier to splashes and droplets, or N95 respirators, which will provide reliable respiratory protection of at least 95 percent filtration efficiency against certain non-oil-based particles. Many view the fabric masks as better than nothing and better than the CDC’s most recent recommendation of bandanas and scarves if masks cannot be found.
Coryell Health in Gatesville is accepting donations of cloth masks for both patients and healthcare professionals.
Jeff Mincy, who is the Coryell Health Director of EMS and Patient Experience, said that the hospital is asking for people to make two types of masks.
The first is for patients to wear to cover their cough, similar to the pleated surgical mask, that would be handed out to patients; and the other maks is for healthcare professionals to wear over the N95 respirator.
The N95 cover will protect that mask from getting wet or coughed on or sneezed on.
“It prolongs the time period that we can use that N95 mask without having to replace it with another one,” Mincy said.
Mincy said that there are about seven groups of individuals currently working to make masks for Coryell Health.
“It’s really grassroots,” Mincy said. “It’s people who have decided that they want to do this and have called us up, and we’re working on some additional PPE but in the event that that doesn’t come through, we have this opportunity as well.”
Mincy is expecting about 100 masks to be delivered this week at first and more as time goes on.
“We think we’re going to get some N95 masks in the not too distant future, but until they’re in our hands, we don’t know that we’ve gotten them, and there’s such a demand now that being able to reutilize our N95 masks by having a cover that can be taken off and washed really helps us prolong the number of masks that we have now,” Mincy said.
On Wednesday, there was the first confirmed positive case in the county, but there are still no confirmed positive cases at the hospital as of press time. Mincy said that the hospital has enough N95 masks for each staff member to have one as well as a replacement.
Currently, the only Coryell Health staff members utilizing their N95 masks are the screeners at the doors, Mincy said. He added that the hospital was “praying for the best but preparing for the worst.”
“If this thing lasts us for months, we don’t have months’ worth of N95s,” Mincy said. “We have days’ worth.”
People interested in donating cloth masks can call Mincy at 248-6330.
Over at AdventHealth Central Texas, the need is not for cloth masks but for N95 respirators, pleated surgical masks, disposable gloves (sterile and non-sterile), disposable gowns and disposable stethoscopes.
“Right now, we do not have a need for those,” said Erin Riley, PR and Marketing Manager for AdventHealth Central Texas. “We are working with local businesses like dentist offices or places that have shut down due to the shelter in place declaration, and some have supplies that they’re not using at the moment that they want to donate or that we can use and then resupply them when they reopen, that’s who we’re reaching out to at the moment.”
Businesses can donate by contacting Anthony Mino, director of AdventHealth Central Texas Foundation, through email: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: 254-535-1794.
“We aren’t in a critical state like what you’re hearing on the news and stuff like that,” Riley said. “We have the supplies we need right now to care for our patients. What we’re trying to do is to be prepared for if and when we get that surge that everybody’s talking about.”
In Copperas Cove, a small group is working on making masks for healthcare professionals at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center as well as other individuals.
April Lopez said that she and six other women, Janie Lockheart, Deena Ziegler, Ina Griffith, Debra Hardison, Kathy Blake and Debbi Cushing have started making masks, each of them working from their homes. Their goal is to make 200 to 300 masks for the people at Darnall, she said.
Others have put in requests including a local veterinary clinic which requested 23 masks while a woman Lopez goes to church with has asked for five to use for her physical therapy job.
“There’s just been a need and so just that, people are asking for them, so I’m just doing as much as I can, with scraps that I have,” Lopez said.
Lopez said she came across a tutorial and pattern on YouTube and discovered it was not that hard to make the masks. Lopez uses bias tape for ties for the masks and said she found a supply of bias tape at Hobby Lobby where she was able to get a 50 percent discount on supplies after mentioning she was making masks to donate to the community.
Lopez also received a call from the Sew & Quilt store in Killeen where the owners offered Lopez help in cutting the bias tape and the use of their machine to make ties as well as donated all the fabric to make the masks.
“I mean, people are just really kind and generous and want to help,” Lopez said.
Lopez is making surgical masks with a nonwoven interface in the middle layer to give more protection. She estimated that with the cotton fabric and the nonwoven interfacing, the masks she is making offer 75 to 80 percent filtration protection.
“There’s a need and we’re trying to keep our community safe, and I’m just somebody who likes to help others and if there’s a need and I can help, I’m all over it,” Lopez said.
In Waco, there is a group effort led by Reyna Reyes, who created the Waco Seamstress for Crisis page and the Waco Masks Seamstresses for COVID-19 group on Facebook. Reyes created the group and reached out to city officials after her mother, Matea Perales, who has been a seamstress for 40 years, saw the need for masks after watching the news.
Within 48 hours of creating the group, more than 700 people had joined. As of press time, there were more than 900 people in the group, each one interested in helping in some way to make masks for those who need them.
Reyes has reached out to local officials in Waco as well as members of the McLennan County Medical Alliance, the Texas Medical Association and local medical CEO’s and administrators to determine how many masks are needed and where they will go.
Reyes said that the scope of how far out from Waco the masks will go depends on how many masks they collect.
“Starting here in Waco and then extending out to surrounding communities and then further out if we can,” Reyes said.
As of Tuesday, Reyes said they had collected approximately 500 masks total. The masks that she is collecting are for healthcare providers only, not for patients.
There is a strict sanitizing protocol that must be followed for these masks to be able to be accepted where the fabric must be washed with bleach in hot water and then dried before being used to make the masks. Once the masks are dropped off, they are sanitized again before being donated.
The masks are then distributed by officials who are determining where to send the masks based on the level of exposure for the healthcare workers, Reyes said.
“This is not meant to just serve one institution or one hospital or one organization,” Reyes said. “It’s meant to serve all healthcare professionals here in Central Texas.”
People interested in helping are advised to find the group on Facebook and join as well as calling Reyes at 254-715-4197.