Local volunteers attack mask shortage

John Christensen
Barbara Anderson RN, a 43-year veteran critical care nurse, has refined her design for the over 100 face masks she has made for local healthcare institutions, as well as for at-risk individuals in Buffalo, North & South Carolina, and Florida.

YATES COUNTY — Small, rural Yates County was one of the last two counties in New York to be reached by the Coronavirus, but that doesn’t mean our residents have been idle in preparation. Responding to a nationwide shortage of manufactured surgical masks, numerous women of our community have joined the effort of home seamstresses in making cloth face masks for hospitals, nursing homes, police and EMS workers, and individuals at risk.

While not suitable for the sterile environment of an operating room, the approved design for multi-layer cloth masks does provide considerably more protection than no mask at all, and further discourages the wearer from touching their face. As of Tuesday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering recommending that all people wear exactly this sort of mask.

One of the first to organize the effort to meet the exploding demand was Anne Meyer-Wilber, who turned the existing members of the sewing ministry of Bluff Point Methodist Church, who were making dresses and shorts for the children of Haiti, to begin making face masks.

Her friend Ann Shepardson of Dundee, a retired teacher from Odessa-Montour who has costumed many shows for Dundee High School and the Penn Yan Theatre Co., has sewn 48 masks on her 80-year-old Singer, hindered only by a shortage of 1/8 inch elastic for the ear bands. She has sent masks to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial, Arnot-Ogden, and Monroe Community Hospitals, the Montour Rescue Squad, and to former students for elderly relatives.

Hannah Gaston, the Coordinator of School Programs at Liberty Hall Museum in New Jersey, is working from her parent’s home in Jerusalem. She and her mother, Anita, the Registered Nurse at Keuka College’s Health Center, also working from home, decided to set a goal of 100 masks, using boxes of Anita’s collected material. Together they have sewn 39 toward that goal, sending off a package Monday to Hannah’s sister Rachel, who is a Registered Nurse at Mary Imogen Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown. “With our time at home, we wanted to do something to help people in the wider world,” says Hannah.

The effort really took off when Mary Sotir also joined the cause along with five of her Mennonite neighbors. With characteristic industriousness and commitment, these six women have sewn over 1,700 masks to date, sending them to Sunset House in Dundee, Waterloo Nursing Home, the Canandaigua VA, Lakeview Health, Mosaic Health in Rushville, LifeTime Care in Dundee, and Geneva General Hospital. But perhaps their most appreciative recipients were the Penn Yan Police Department and the Yates County Sheriff’s Office, where Mary’s husband, Todd, had been a Deputy for many years.

“The members of the sheriffs office road patrol division would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to Mary Sotir and crew for the donation of home made masks,” stated Sheriff Ron Spike in a press release. “They have come in handy in our time of need. God bless and thank you!”

In order to reach even further, a Facebook group was set up by Lucas Day of WFLR Radio in Penn Yan: Finger Lakes Coronavirus Community Forum. There, people can make requests for masks, learn how they can donate materials and otherwise support the cause. Mary even posted a how-to video on making the face masks for others who want to join the effort.

People can request masks from Mary’s group on the forum, or for those not on social media, you may call her at 315-350-4883 and she will leave masks for pickup at her roadside shed at 3070 Swarthout Road in Milo.

Perhaps no one knows better the importance of masks than nurses. Barbara Jo Anderson, a Registered Nurse for 43 years in critical care, emergency, ICU, and cancer treatment and research centers, has delved into the different designs, their advantages, and options for the over 100 masks she has sewn herself. In just over a week of sewing, experimentation, and research, she has refined her design for better coverage, breathing, and comfort.

“I have met many fellow sewers through Facebook and had many questions posed to me in regards to the safety of cloth masks and the supply, demand, and distribution of them.” So she reached out to Dr. Sarah Clayson, former critical care nurse and currently the Education Coordinator for Finger Lakes Health. Dr. Clayson stated that healthcare workers are using the CDC guidelines, which include the use of homemade masks when all other resources are not available: www.cdc.gov/.../2019.../hcp/ppe-strategy/face-masks.html

With little available data on the efficacy of cloth masks or guidance from the CDC for patterns or fabric to use, Barbara turned to a Cambridge study published in 2009 that supported the use of masks made from cotton T-shirts, as compared to other household items: https://hackaday.com/.../homemade-masks-in-a-time-of-shortage/

She stresses that there is little guidance in the use of filters, and only those approved for breathing by regulatory agencies should be used. Homemade masks act as a good reminder to not touch one’s face, or as a comfort barrier. Further guidance is available at the CDC website.

According to Dr. Clayson, cloth face masks donated to Finger Lakes Health are being used by non-clinical staff at this time. They can be donated at Soldiers & Sailors or at Geneva General Hospital, where they will be logged in, laundered, packaged in paper bags with instructions for use, and distributed to workers or agencies in need.

“Because the landscape of the coronavirus epidemic changes on a daily basis,” Dr. Clayson told Barbara, “the process could change, or, the need for cloth masks actually increase.”

To donate masks, contact Dr. Clayson by Facebook Messenger (Sarah Clayson) to arrange delivery, either at S&S or GGH. She can be reached during business hours at 315-787-5453.