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GetPPE.org matches volunteers to hospitals and facilities in need

April 13, 2020

The Million Mask Challenge

April 11, 2020, Heard on Weekend Edition Saturday

Before the CDC suggested Americans wear cloth masks in public, people were busy sewing masks for first responders. Vanessa Fulton talks about the effort she helped to launch in the D.C. area.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Social distancing has left a lot of people at home with more unscheduled time. But Vanessa Fulton of Arlington, Va., who is an attorney and mother of two, has been busier than ever. Her feed dogs have been flying.

VANESSA FULTON: I’m definitely not an expert sewer. There’s a lot I don’t know, but I can still make a bunch of masks.

SIMON: Vanessa Fulton has made a bunch of masks, and she’s helping thousands of people make a bunch more.

FULTON: Yeah, we like to call our volunteers our craftivists.

SIMON: Craftivists.

FULTON: They are doing more than just sewing something. They are, in a way, being an activist here to support our community and our health care providers.

SIMON: Vanessa Fulton is one of the founders of a grassroots effort in the Washington, D.C., region called the Million Mask Challenge.

FULTON: There’s experienced sewers and then there’s people who have never threaded a needle in their life.

SIMON: The challenge has a website and a growing Facebook group of craftivists uniting, however remotely, from their own dining room tables, family rooms, and basements – young, old, middle-aged men, women, married couples – to sew for those on the front lines of this pandemic. So far, they’ve made more than 25,000 masks, and the requests from hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes keep coming. This project started only three weeks ago in a local online community group for COVID-19 support.

FULTON: The CDC started telling health care workers that when they ran out of traditional hospital-grade PPE, they could use things like a bandana or a homemade mask. Me and the others thought, well, we can make something that’s way better than a bandana. At least it’ll fit properly.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN’S “SORRY ABOUT YOUR IRONY”)

FULTON: The first pattern we have is kind of a basic mask that looks similar to a surgical mask, which, to be clear, won’t replace traditional personal protective equipment. The second is similar to the basic mask but bigger. It’s designed to cover the actual N95 masks. Doctors and nurses and other health care providers were being given one N95 mask to wear for the entire week. If that mask gets soiled or ruined in some other way, they have to throw it away. So one of the big places we could help was to extend the life of the N95 masks.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN’S “SORRY ABOUT YOUR IRONY”)

FULTON: We have over 4,000 members in our Facebook group. I think people are joining our effort for the same reasons that we decided to start it. Another thing that was really important to me is creating a community for people in a very strange time where we’ve lost a lot of community because we are having to stay in our homes.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN’S “SORRY ABOUT YOUR IRONY”)

FULTON: We do Zoom video chats. Sip and sew is what we call them, to try to get in the evenings, you know, people sewing together. And these are people who have never met each other. And we really need more people to help us in this effort. We have requests for 40,000 masks from 190 different health care providers, and our patterns are accessible for beginners. We want anybody who has a sewing machine sitting at home to feel like they could read our pattern, maybe watch one of my Facebook Live tutorials and start sewing.

SIMON: Vanessa Fulton, talking about the Million Mask Challenge for the D.C. region. She’s also been speaking with people in other parts of the country to try to launch efforts to help front-line workers in their communities.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN’S “SORRY ABOUT YOUR IRONY”)

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Jungle Prints. Hearts. Chickens: What’s Showing Up on Homemade Coronavirus Masks

April 5, 2020

Volunteers are firing up sewing machines, with cloth masks in demand; ‘a plea to every person I know who ever sewed’

America needs more face masks to confront the coronavirus. Karen Vacaliuc has plenty to offer: in gingham, stripes and jungle prints.

Shortly after wrapping up with the local high-school musical, “The Little Mermaid,” the Oak Ridge, Tenn., costume designer read that health-care workers faced a shortage of masks due to an expected surge of Covid-19 patients. She dug into the “30 or 40” bins of fabric she has at home, found patterns for fabric face masks online, and got to work.

“I thought, I’m not a doctor, I’m not a nurse, I’m not a firefighter, but I could help somehow,” she said. She has sewn about 500 masks, donating many to a local hospital and nieces who are nurses.

Thousands of volunteers across the U.S.—and more around the world—are putting aside sewing projects or dusting off machines to stitch homemade masks for hospitals, nursing homes and others in need.

Following instructions posted online by infection-control experts and using whatever fabrics they have on hand, they are crafting a grass-roots response to a national crisis as government officials scramble to procure more medical supplies and people search for masks to wear in public. Some retailers and fabric companies are also pitching in.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that Americans wear cloth face coverings in stores and other public places in addition to social distancing.

Masks made with pink florals or superhero fabrics are a far cry from government-certified N95 respirators, which are made from polymers and fit tightly to filter out most airborne particles. Health-care workers wear them to treat patients sickened by the coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19.

Hospitals are searching for ways to help extend dwindling stocks of N95 and regular surgical masks. They say they can give the cotton versions to employees who don’t have contact with Covid-19 patients, conserving more-protective medical gear. Some doctors and nurses also say they can put the cloth ones over N95 masks, extending their use. Some cloth masks are also made for filters to be inserted.

A few, worried cotton isn’t enough, have concocted masks out of HEPA filter vacuum bags, surgical wrapping and padded bras.

The at-home mask makers take their cue in part from the CDC, which has instructions on its website for making face coverings out of cotton, T-shirts and bandannas and says to wash them regularly. Homespun creations may do as “a last resort” if supplies run out for health-care workers, though the level of protection they provide is unknown, the CDC says. They can help prevent the spread of virus from an infected wearer in public, the agency says.

Makers say it isn’t that hard to spool out a mask. “You don’t have to know more than sewing a straight line to do this,” said Kelly Canning, an organizer of a Facebook Group called the Million Mask Challenge with more than 4,800 members.

Members have donated masks to grocery-store workers, delivery people and police in addition to health-care workers, she said. “We were feeling helpless and this is one way to take power back even from our own homes,” said Ms. Canning, who works for an energy company in Houston.

Deaconess Health System in Evansville, Ind., received several thousand masks after seeking donations on its website in mid-March, said Pam Hight, public relations and consumer engagement manager. Calling fabric masks a “crisis response option” for purposes other than Covid-19 patients, the health system posted a pattern, video, and instructions to use “tightly-woven cotton fabric on both sides.”

“We’ve received some beautiful masks,” said Ms. Hight. They have been decorated with hearts, mustaches, and “We got this!” in English and Spanish, she said.

With Low Supplies, DIY Medical Gear Is On The Rise

April 3, 2020

Science Friday_homemade-masks-million-project
Credit: Million Mask Challenge/courtesy Christina Headrick

This story is part of Science Friday’s coverage on the novel coronavirus, the agent of the disease COVID-19. Listen to experts discuss the spread, outbreak response, and treatment.

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals across the country are running low on PPE—personal protective equipment. This includes masks, gowns, face shields, and other important gear to keep healthcare workers safe. These supplies are the first line of defense between healthcare workers and potentially sick patients.

Cloth masks are usually only advised as a last resort for healthcare workers, but an increasing number of hospitals are seeking them out. Some hospitals, including Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis—the largest hospital in Missouri—are anticipating a tsunami of COVID-19 cases in the weeks ahead. To get ready, it’s watching and taking lessons from the experiences of hospitals in coronavirus hotspots, like New York City. One big example is turning to homemade cloth masks to fill oncoming PPE shortages.

A homegrown effort called the Million Masks Challenge has sprung up amidst the crisis. Volunteers are pulling out their sewing machines and extra fabric to make masks that are sent to healthcare providers. And a new website, GetPPE.org, has launched to connect crafters with hospitals across the country that are asking for homemade face masks.

Joining Ira to talk about the PPE crisis and how hospitals are preparing are Rob Poirier, clinical chief of emergency medicine at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Jessica Choi, founder of GetPPE.org.

Kansas City Area Crafters Rush Into Action Making Masks For Health Care Workers

March 24, 2020

Kansas City Image
Kansas City, Kansas, artist Kate E. Burke (right) and her mom, Nancy Burke, model some of her newly created masks. COURTESY OF KATE E. BURKE

Kansas City fashion designers, fabric artists, home sewers and crafters are diving into their own supplies to help meet the demand for masks for health care workers.

As is happening elsewhere around the country, health care and first-responder agencies in the metro area have begun asking for donations to overcome shortages as they deal with the spread of COVID-19. 

“We can use just about any pattern a hospital prefers just so long as we can still source the necessary materials,” Jennifer Lapka, founder and president of the non-profit Rightfully Sewn, wrote in a news release on Tuesday.

Lapka said she’s reached out to Truman Medical Center, Liberty Hospital, North Kansas City Hospital and the University of Kansas Health System to assess needs.

“Fabric warehouses around the country are closing for quarantine measures, too, so we need to act fast,” she added.

Starting with fabric on-hand, Lapka said, her organization expected to deliver a first batch of “non-medical grade fabric masks for donation to hospital workers” by April 3.

The Johnson County Emergency Management Division is looking for cloth masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.

Public information officer Alyson Angell said they’re planning ahead for a shortage of disposable surgical masks. They’re still waiting for masks that have been on back order since January, and have also placed orders through the State of Kansas.

A variety of sewing templates for masks are available online from The Turban ProjectJoAnn Fabrics and Johnson County Library. Angell recommends professional and hobbyist sewers follow CDC guidance on last-resort masks. 

“The masks are the same patterns as have been circulating around on the internet — cloth with elastic ear straps,” Angell wrote in an email to KCUR. “We do suggest thicker fabrics, double lined if possible.” 

Fashion designer Hadley Clark has scheduled a Zoom meeting for Wednesday “to sew along with others” since “making masks at home alone can become overwhelming and kind of sad.” 

Made in KC and Sandlot Goods are teaming up and have enlisted employees, who usually create leather wallets or canvas tote bags, to make cotton face masks and plastic face shields. They’re also offering to drop off kits for people who are available to sew from home.

“We view this as an opportunity to employ makers and artists who cannot currently work otherwise,” Made in KC’s Tyler Enders wrote in a release.