As the medical community cries out for more protective gear for workers, several groups in Boone County have taken to their sewing machines, scissors and fabric stashes to help out.

A Boone County doctor, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Lebanon Reporter they have a list of clinics and residency programs in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas in need of masks. The doctor said they’re currently working with private volunteer groups who are sewing masks to help bridge the need.

Many, like the volunteers from Zionsville Presbyterian Church, are combining efforts with other willing sewers. The goal is to get masks to the areas experiencing the greatest need. Even those who cannot sew are invited to help. Donations of 100% cotton fabric, coffee filters, elastic, thread and other supplies are needed. Those who don’t sew are needed to cut out the pieces needed to assemble the finished products.

The favored styles are masks with a filter pocket and a twist tie or wire over the nose, if at all possible. Adding a couple of folded coffee filters into the pocket, if available, provides an added barrier.

Healthcare workers and others are grateful for the masks made from any pattern that’s out there, as long as it covers the nose.

Those working with COVID-19 patients are now wearing their one-day masks for up to a week. This is where the fabric masks are so helpful as they can be worn over the certified masks, protecting them and extending their usefulness.

This is especially critical to private physician’s offices and other small clinics who have given their surplus PPE (personal protective equipment) to hospitals who are seeing a much heavier patient load.

Other items are needed as well. A locally based Facebook group, Sewing for Boone County, posted: “Mask updates: If you are making fabric masks, do not be discouraged, they will be needed and used. They are not the absolute best option for medical procedures so we are also researching 3D print options but none of that is as quick as you can sew and there is need now as something is better than nothing in a lot of clinics and places trying to preserve or wear these fabric over an existing mask. So do not despair, we need all helpers and even though there are articles discouraging making the masks, there is still a need. Just don’t spend lots of $ or make extra trips out (trips to stores defeat social distancing which is more important) but if you have supplies and can make them, we have places that want them until we can get proper equipment in place.”

This group is also an exceptional resource for preferred patterns and tips and tricks for sewing. In a messaging interview they described the sewing skill needed to assemble one of the masks from start to finish is about the same “degree of difficulty” as sewing a 4-H apron.

One group, organized by the Community Foundation of Boone County, is currently working to sew masks for immediate shipment to healthcare workers in hard-hit New York.

Although these handmade masks are not considered “medical grade,” as they will not filter out fine particulates, they are an effective barrier layer to place over the “real” masks, thus extending the effectiveness of the disposable masks.

Since the homemade masks are launderable, they can also be reused. This makes the lifespan of the actual COVID protection masks much longer. Plus, with the crazy patterns used by the volunteer seamstresses, perhaps the masked-up frontline workers might seem less intimidating.

The Center for Disease Control and U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams have stated many times as shortages inch toward critical levels, that fabric masks, although not as effective as medical-grade disposables, are better than nothing for those who are treating cases. However, if nothing else is available, the government is suggesting that healthcare workers use bandanas.

Many Americans are currently wringing their hands with worry and feeling powerless to do “something to help.” This inspired several locals to take up the idea of old fashioned sewing circles, using a cyber-circle rather than in-person meet ups.

Those who are really in need may be working in healthcare fields which are generally not at the forefront of the public’s attention. Beyond workers who are swabbing people in drive-thru checkpoints or in hospital emergency rooms, others are in need of masks as barriers between them and patient populations.

For now, medical receptionists, nursing home personnel, in-home healthcare providers like therapists and nurses, and dialysis clinics, are struggling to operate with few-to-no available masks.

Boone County Health Officer Dr. Herschell Servies said the fabric masks may be useful for covering and preserving COVID-19 masks. Witham Health Services CEO and president Ray Ingham said the health system will welcome them.

Ingham and Servies attended a meeting of public health officials Monday morning to discuss the county’s current approach to COVID-19.

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