One of the most frustrating aspects of the coronavirus crisis is the feeling of helplessness it can evoke.
Doctors, nurses, first responders and others are on the front lines fighting the fight. For the rest of us, there’s not much we can do aside from adhering to social distancing and isolation practices.
But some people are finding ways to pitch in. Across the country and around the globe, the looming shortage of medical masks that keep the frontliners safe is being erased stitch by stitch and snip by snip by those handy with needle and thread. They are crafting homemade masks and helping to backfill a depleted stock of personal protective equipment.
For some, it’s not unlike folks of past generations doing their part on the homefront to aid a war effort a world away.
“It makes me think of history, when women got together and sewed socks for soldiers and wrapped bandages in times past. It is something I can do,” said Christi Severance, a retired Lewiston school teacher who lives in Clarkston. “For me, doing something that is helpful has really helped me feel better.”
She and other members of her sewing circle called off their regular get-togethers because of the virus, but they collectively, though separately, joined the mask-making effort.
Severance, who describes herself as a slower seamstress, has made about 25 masks following instructions posted by MultiCare Deaconess Hospital of Spokane. She’s had friends give her fabric and elastic, which is in especially high demand.
Stores like Joann Fabrics in Clarkston have joined the effort and are donating mask-making kits and the raw components of the masks to volunteer do-it-yourselfers. The company is also working with hospitals to acquire medically approved cloth and fabric.
Ryan Murphy, a district manager for the national chain, said the company is following the lead of its customers. Company officials noticed many Joann customers purchasing mask-making materials and were moved by it.
“We felt like we could help them do even more,” Murphy said.
The Clarkston store gave away 300 kits Wednesday and has distributed more than 800 in the past three days, Joann employee Jennifer Reynolds said. Each kit has enough material and supplies to make 10 masks.
“We can hardly even keep up with cutting for the kits, and they are buying their own supplies and making their own,” Reynolds said. “I think it gives people maybe a purpose, something to distract them with everything going on. They seem really happy to be able to help.”
Murphy said the stores are donating the kits and the raw materials.
“No one pays anything,” he said.
People can also drop completed masks at the stores for distribution to medical centers. Many hospitals are encouraging the volunteer effort and posting approved patterns and materials on their websites.
Gritman Medical Center at Moscow will use homemade masks to cover their high-filtering manufactured masks.
“Those cloth covers have the potential to extend the life of the N95 masks,” said spokesman Peter Mundt.
Pullman Regional Hospital is asking mask makers to sew sterile fabric over the cloth covers.
“We believe that is going to be better protection,” hospital spokeswoman Megan Guido said. “It’s impervious material.”
The hospital has been flooded with calls from people offering their sewing skills.
“The great news is people want to help, and we want to provide the best protection to our health care workers, so we have taken some time to do some research and find out what is going to be the best option,” Guido said, referring volunteers to the hospital’s website for details.
St. Joseph Regional Medical Center at Lewiston is not accepting donated homemade masks, spokeswoman Samantha Skinner said. But Tri-State Memorial Hospital in Clarkston is all in on the effort.
“We are hoping to make 25,000 masks to help support the hospital and our community,” said D’Lynn Ottmar, chief development officer for the Tri-State Hospital Foundation.
Ottmar created the “Let’s Face it Together” Facebook group that includes instructions, patterns and other information for those interested in making masks. The foundation has ordered supplies from Joann and expects to have mask kits available next week.
Other volunteers are making masks for people who are at most risk of suffering bad outcomes if they become ill with the coronavirus. Kellie Pierce of Lewiston and her daughter, Sammie, started making masks for their vulnerable family members and then branched out from there.
“When our masks were done, we realized there are people in our circle who would maybe need a mask,” Pierce said. “You just start thinking, ‘Who is at risk and how do we help them?’ “
Barker may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.
For mask makers
Hospitals seeking masks and links with instructions and specifications:
Gritman Medical Center: bit.ly/2vIYmN4
Tri-State Memorial Hospital: “Let’s Face It Together” Facebook group
St. Mary’s and Clearwater Valley Hospitals and Clinics in Cottonwood and Orofino: bit.ly/2UxIg1j
Pullman Regional Hospital: bit.ly/3br8byo