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Sewing to beat the outbreak

Requests for fabric facemasks climb in face of pandemic
Friday, March 27, 2020
Sewing to beat the outbreak

Pictured are some of the facemasks created by locals in response to the shortage caused by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Submitted photo

Ruston resident Carole Carson can’t keep up with the orders for fabric facemasks she’s receiving from area health care workers and other people concerned about personal protection from the coronavirus.

“I’ve got people begging for them,” Carson said Wednesday about the 100 or more masks she and other local seamstresses have churned out since Monday.

Though local hospitals and clinics follow regulations prohibiting the use of homemade masks for frontline personnel, that doesn’t mean the masks lack potential value in other ways, Lincoln Parish Homeland Security Director Kip Franklin said.

“If some health care workers who have to work at a clinic, hospital, nursing home or any other high-risk environment due to the COVID-19 incident are allowed to wear a homemade mask in a non-critical setting and it eases any anxiety, fear or paranoia they may have while working each day, seems to be it would help,” Franklin said.

“Otherwise, give the homemade masks to friends, family and neighbors, anything that may help stem the tide of this pandemic. Due to so many unknowns about COVID-19 and PPE shortages, the homemade masks may become the last resort for protection,” he said.

Plus, the masks, including the time spent making them, are considered “donated resources,” and can count in the FEMA match process, Franklin said.

“There’s no telling how many sewing machines are running in this parish right now,” he said. “We, the parish, will be able to benefit from the hours these women put in.”

Because a state of emergency has been declared statewide as a result of the coronavirus threat, Lincoln Parish is in line for possible FEMA reimbursement for a portion of any money being spent to minimize the effects of the virus on the health and welfare of parish residents.

People making masks should keep a daily log of hours spent and materials used and get that information to Franklin’s office at the Lincoln Parish Public Safety Complex on Road Camp Road.

Local health care providers say for now they have enough of the approved N95 masks and other personal protective equipment. But reorders are backordered, and nobody knows until when.

“We’re constantly reordering and hoping those order will be filled,” Annette Straughter, site manager at Lincoln Com munity Health Center, said. “We’re praying that the supply chain will be able to replenish us.”

According to several of the seamstresses, healthcare workers requesting homemade masks are doing so either because they are not frontline personnel eligible for N95 masks, or they want to use them over their N95 masks to prolong the N95’s use.

“Now they’ll be able to take this other mask off before they see another patient, in essence, not changing the N95,” seamstress Melissa Ott, of Ruston, said.

To what extent that may be happening in Lincoln Parish is unclear.

The N95 masks have an air filtration system in them that most homemade masks don’t.

“There’s a risk (with the homemade masks). It’s a risk you don’t want to take,” Straughter said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said homemade masks should be used in healthcare settings only as a last resort, and then preferably with a face shield.

Lincoln Parish received its second order this week of sanctioned personal protective equipment from the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and other PPE sources late Thursday afternoon.

On Tuesday afternoon, the parish received a requested allotment, and by Wednesday almost all of the masks, gloves, face shields and protective suits had been doled out to first response agencies and healthcare providers, Franklin said.

He requested more; it was on its way on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the sewing machines keep humming.

Carson said she’s gotten orders from home health workers, as well employees at healthcare facilities in Lincoln, Union and Jackson parishes.

“If I see a need I’m going to figure out a way to help,” she said. “I guess the Good Lord put it on my heart, and I said, ‘hey, we can make these masks.’”

Straughter said she’s planning to sew masks this weekend for her family to wear grocery shopping.

There’s always a chance wearing a mask while shopping or in other settings even of limited personal contact can help subdue the coronavirus, Franklin said.

“If it helps stem the tide, it can’t be doing any harm,” he said.