Several Williamson County residents are spending their days at home creating cloth masks for Williamson Medical Center employees while the hospital tries to conserve supplies.
“We watched a video ... and it showed the patterns and some masks, and I like to quilt and sew, and so does my little sister,” said 11-year-old Lucia Vernon. “We thought we could help by sewing some masks.”
As the supply of medical respirators and masks for medical personnel working with infected patients has become limited, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged those who are not in high-risk occupations to avoid using of these medical supplies at this time.
Nichole Volk, marketing director at Williamson Medical Center, is urging people to follow guidelines from health experts.
“The community’s response with the evolving COVID-19 situation remains imperative in ensuring resources remain available for all patients with the most critical needs,” she said. “Making informed choices will help protect each other and keep resources available.”
While Volk said that donated cloth masks won’t be used by staffers working directly with COVID-19 patients, they will be worn in “non-COVID designated areas as an extra precaution.”
“The main value of universal masking is protecting others more than yourself,” she added. “These masks are not personal protection equipment and are never used for any type of isolation.”
A 2015 study published by the British Medical Journal found that “cloth masks should not be recommended for HCWs (health-care workers), particularly in high-risk situations.” The data indicated that cloth masks have a particle penetration rate of 97% compared with the 44% of medical masks and 5% or less of N95 respirators, which the CDC recommends for use by health-care workers.
“These respirators are not used or needed outside of health-care settings,” the CDC says on its site. “In times of shortage, only HCP (health-care personnel) who are working in a sterile field or who may be exposed to high-velocity splashes, sprays or splatters of blood or body fluids should wear these respirators.”
Not only does the CDC recommend people going about their day-to-day business not use respirators, it also says certain medical conditions can be worsened by breathing through them. Loose-fitting face masks, however, such as cloth masks, are recommended for those who present symptoms until they reach isolation, for the protection of others, as Volk said.
“The role of facemasks is for patient source control, to prevent contamination of the surrounding area when a person coughs or sneezes,” the CDC says on its site. “Patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should wear a facemask until they are isolated in a hospital or at home.”
Volk said that in terms of personal protection equipment supply, the hospital is “prepared at this time” but is conserving as much as possible, as it is difficult to predict the need down the road.
In this conservation effort, WMC is using donated masks in attempt to prevent spread within the hospital and to conserve its medical mask and respirator supply, saving them for those in direct contact with virus patients. Volk said donations of homemade masks are a great help.
Like the Vernon family, others throughout the county have been stitching masks together to assist local medical workers. Doris McMillan on Sunday evening began work with her six-person team, organized with the help of Mary Kate Brown, and by Monday afternoon, had created 62 masks. Likewise, a network of seamstresses in Westhaven created about 100 in one day and plan to deliver more every afternoon.
“As always, our community is extremely generous in times of need,” Volk said. “We are putting these to great use and greatly appreciate the donations of these courtesy masks.”
However, in the midst of this medical mask shortage, these crafters are facing a shortage of their own.
“There’s a national shortage of elastic (because) so many people are making masks,” said Cynthia Vernon, Lucia’s mother. “Even like on Amazon, you just can’t get the elastic. It’s backordered until, you know, May.”
Some avid seamstresses, such as McMillan, have a personal supply of elastic to pull from, but many of those in Westhaven are resorting to sewing cloth ties, which take significantly longer to make. Susan Collins, one of the Westhaven crafters, said that anyone with some elastic or fabric to spare can drop off materials at the doorstep of the Westhaven Residents Club, at 400 Cheltenham Ave. in Franklin.
Leigh Williams, the Williamson Medical Center Foundation Associate, said that monetary donations to the foundation’s general fund are always welcome. She said the foundation has used some of its money to purchase meals for medical staff on the frontlines.
To donate to Williamson Medical Center, visit williamsonmedicalcenter.org/support-wmc/give-now. For more information on CDC guidelines during the COVID-19 outbreak, visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.