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Turning fabric into masks

Courtney Blankenship
Area semstresses are using a variety of patterns and fabrics to create face masks to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Local community members and organizations are joining the fight against the spread of the COVID-19 virus, contributing their time and efforts to create facial masks for friends, neighbors and medical personnel.

Susie Boese, a retired Iuka resident, said she was scrolling through Facebook when she saw stories of people around the country who had started sewing homemade masks using extra fabric and elastic.

“If the fabric is cut out, the masks themselves only take about ten minutes,” Boese said. “What is tricky is the pleats--you have to make three pleats on each side so that the mask will contour around the chin and nose, and those are a little bit trickier to sew through, so that takes a little bit of time.”

Through a church contact, Boese learned of a woman who was ill at home and in need of some masks, so she took the two she had already made to give to her. Since then, Boese said she has only made a few more masks but she plans to get in touch with local health facilities to assess the need for masks and plan her next steps.

Boese said the pattern she uses for the masks requires two pieces of 100 percent cotton with a piece of flannel in the middle and two pieces of elastic to go around the ears and hold the mask on.

“I have run into a bit of a snag there though; I can’t find any elastic,” Boese said. “I reached out on Facebook to see if there was anyone with eighth or quarter-inch elastic that they didn’t need, and I got one person here in Iuka that had some, so I used that. I used what I had, and then several people suggested going to Dollar Tree and buying elastic headbands, so I’ve got some of those picked up but I haven’t used any of those yet.”

Though the masks are intended for community members who would like an extra protective measure when leaving the house, Boese said they are not the grade of mask that would be really useful in hospitals.

“I just will be glad when this is all over--it’s just so weird for everybody,” Boese said. “I fear for our country, you know, for our economy, for the health of our country---it’s pretty crazy.”

Vickie DeVoss, a volunteer driver for RSVP Senior Services, is another community member who decided to put her skills to use by sewing and donating masks for anyone in need.

“I saw on TV and on Facebook that Oklahoma was asking all seamstresses to make masks because there’s such a shortage of them, and I just want to do what I can for my community,” DeVoss said. “I love to sew, and I know how to make the masks, and if anybody needs them, all they have to do is call me.”

DeVoss said she will begin production on the masks this weekend and will even deliver them to their intended recipients if requested. Special fabric is required for masks used by hospital and emergency workers.

“What I’m making is for everyday people that want to wear a mask when they go out, and with this being allergy season, people are sneezing and coughing and people are scared,” DeVoss said. “Even if it’s just for your allergies, at least it gives people a sense of ‘we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.’”

DeVoss said she called the Pratt Internal Medicine group and was informed that materials have been ordered for the masks to be made out of so that they are waterproof and can more effectively protect people from the virus.

Though DeVoss intends for the masks to be primarily used by community members, especially those who have compromised immune systems, she says she is willing to make masks for anyone who wants them.

In terms of how people can help the cause, DeVoss says there may be a need for elastic in the near future in order to make the masks.

“I would be glad to go pick it up [the elastic] if they put it out on their porch for me and use them to make the masks,” DeVoss said. “I’ll do it for anybody that wants any here in our area.”

Though homemade masks may help to prevent the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says their capability to protect against the virus are not yet known so caution should still be taken while wearing masks, and safety protocols such as hand-washing, quarantining, and social distancing should not be abandoned.

In addition, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends only wearing a mask while taking care of someone who may be infected or if a person is coughing or sneezing. Those who decide to wear masks should be aware of how to properly use and dispose of the masks in order to prevent transmission of the virus, and consistent hand-washing practices must continue.

DeVoss said she knows that staying at home can be uncomfortable for a lot of people who are used to going out but the main goal is to get control of the virus as soon as possible.

“Pratt has a lot of senior citizens and so we have to thank the stores for giving us certain hours to come and shop without anybody else around that could compromise our health and stuff, and I really appreciate that,” DeVoss said. “It’s something we’ve never been through before, and it is a scary situation but you know, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do.”

As the COVID-19 virus continues its rapid spread across the globe, many countries are employing extreme measures such as lockdowns and restrictions of international travel in order to curb the spread.

The United States now has the highest number of confirmed cases of any country, and a shortage of face masks, gloves, and disinfectant products has pushed the government to begin regulating the quantity of supplies people may possess for personal use.

Some hospitals have even called upon the public to refrain from purchasing protective equipment so that health care providers may access it as they struggle to fight the virus, treat their patients, and stay healthy themselves with rapidly depleting supplies.

With many schools and businesses also closing and moving online to prevent the spread of the virus, DeVoss says it is time for people to do their part in this process, and she is glad to contribute how she can.

“I enjoy it,” DeVoss said. “It’s a fulfilling job to be able to help others.”