In early March, Ronda Krier was checking in on Facebook and saw a post from a Kansas hospital asking for cloth masks to help stretch its supply until additional respirator masks could be acquired.
“I thought, I know how to sew; that’s something I can help with,” she said. “I put it out there to see who needed or wanted them, and I’ve been overwhelmed.”
So far, Krier has distributed between 150-200 masks since she began sewing them and recruiting a few friends who sew to help out. She is providing them free of charge to health-care workers.
Krier has been contacted by several groups including a medical organization in Johnson County, the hospital in Kearny County, a local pharmacy and a nursing home in Great Bend, all looking for fabric masks for their staff, patients and residents with compromised immune systems. Now, with the first case of COVID-19 confirmed in Barton County, she expects the demand locally will go up.
Krier makes a point of informing those who receive the masks that they are not an adequate substitute for the N95 masks recommended for Personal Protective Equipment by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She also makes sure they understand they must be washed daily in hot water for good hygiene and safety.
The groups that Krier has been sewing for are medical care providers and support workers, so they are aware of the precautions. Many are using the masks as a way to preserve the surgical masks that are in short supply as they wait for shipments of additional masks to arrive.
“I was told the health-care workers have the proper mask, but have to reuse them,” she said. “They are putting regular masks into cloth masks in order to protect the good mask for a longer time.”
The World Health Organization posts how to properly use a mask at its website, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/when-and-how-to-use-masks.
• Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
• Cover your mouth and nose with a mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask.
• Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
• Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not reuse single-use masks.
• To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of the mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
Also, there is an informative and detailed instructional sewing video provided by a Unity Point hospital in Cedar Rapids. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnVk12sFRkY
A link to the Olson Mask mentioned in the above video can be found at https://www.unitypoint.org/filesimages/COVID-19/UnityPointHealth-OlsonMask-Instructions.pdf
To use or not to use
Use of fabric face masks being made by home sewers is controversial among some medical professionals. The Kansas State Nurses Association posted a public service notice on its Facebook page last Tuesday: “Evidence does not support the notion that cloth masks are safe for health-care professionals providing care to patients with coronavirus.
“ANA & KSNA continue to press for appropriate PPE including N95 respirators and if those are not available, medical/surgical masks. Nurses should not be wearing cloth masks – they do not afford the wearer any significant protection.”
But, measures such as these are included in the CDC’s strategies for optimizing the supply of face masks during a surge in capacity. There are three stages of a surge, and it is under the most extreme condition, the “crisis capacity,” when no face masks are available that the use of homemade masks are addressed.
“In settings where face masks are not available, Health Care Professionals might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort,” according to the CDC website. “However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.”
Out-and-out recommendations for the general public to wear masks have not been issued by the CDC unless they “have been exposed and are displaying symptoms of the virus,” according to the organization’s website.
Masks are recommended if you are feeling sick in order to protect those around you, and if you are caring for someone who is sick, masks are recommended for the periods of time you are around them.
They are being used in homes and facilities and also by those who are sick and need to get out for medical care or supplies, if they have no one who can help them.
Krier is quick to say she’s not taking on all the sewing alone. Other Great Bend sewers, Joyce Burnham, her neighbor Kathy Dunaway, and Emily Grasser have all been lending their skills. Burnham and Grasser volunteered their services when she posted about her efforts on her Facebook page. When she received the order from Johnson County, she asked Dunaway for help, and her neighbor rose to the challenge.
“She’s been doing most of them at this point,” Krier said.
Krier’s husband Darryl has been helping in a critical capacity.
“Everyone is donating the materials so no one is out any money, but finding elastic is a problem,” she said.
Specifically elastic in the 1/8 to 1/4 inch width, used to provide over-the-ear loops to hold the masks in place. Darryl has been cutting the wider, 1/2 to 1 inch widths of elastic by hand into thinner pieces.
“I’m so proud of him,” she said.
The effort is also bringing new members of the community into the fold. Emily Grasser moved to Great Bend from Cimarron about a year ago. She has been working as a substitute teacher and supplementing her income with her sewing skills.
Grasser taught herself to sew when she was in college, and began studying the historical aspects of clothing. She is now a historical seamstress, sewing 18th and 19th century costumes for living history interpreters. She takes part in events at Fort Larned, and has gone through their closet, helped with organizing, maintenance and alterations on the clothing there, she said.
“If you had a persona of someone on the prairie, I can tell you what you need to wear to portray that person, all the way down to the type of fabric used in the clothing,” she said.
“Anything that involves textiles, I can do,” she said.
Since seeing Krier’s post on the Great Bend Cares Facebook group, she has added fitted face masks to the list of items that she makes.
Using a pattern she found on a YouTube video, (https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=share&v=v8HNYKvlaN8 ) she says it takes about an hour for her to sew four masks. There are many other face mask patterns circulating online now, some fitted, some with pleats. And, they only require basic sewing skills, she said. As of Monday, she’s made 21 masks, and will continue making them as long as they are needed in her spare time, using scraps from her fabric stash. She, too, is running low on elastic. She’s found elastic hair ties and headbands can be cut down and used in a pinch though.
Nonwoven interfacing is another component of the mask that Grasser recommends. Used as a liner, it is believed to possibly catch more particles, she said. But, she added, the masks can still be useful after the pandemic is no longer a concern for those who suffer from hay fever and allergies.
More help welcome
This is Krier’s first effort of this kind, she said. She feels blessed to still be working for her employer, Enterprise. Her office in Great Bend is shut down, but she is commuting back and forth between Salina. Her hours are slightly reduced now (eight hours a day, down from the usual 11 hours she was working), and she decided this is what she could do with the extra time.
“I just never imagined it would have gotten this big,” she said.
In addition to the sewing, Krier is also working on how to distribute the masks. She started out having people pick them up at her Great Bend office before it closed, and since then she’s had pick-ups from her porch and organized a pick-up point at the Walmart parking lot.
With the first Barton County case of COVID-19 confirmed, she expects the demand locally is going to increase. She is welcoming assistance from other home sewers, as well as donations of 100 percent cotton fabric, non-woven interfacing, and elastic. She would also welcome assistance with a pick-up location. She can be reached through Facebook messager.