During World War II, the U.S. Office of Price Administration rationed cars, tires, gasoline, fuel oil, coal, firewood, nylon, silk and shoes. And people got together to roll bandages for the troops.
Instead of rolling bandages, people are getting together in the war against COVID-19 to make masks — not the kind used for celebrating Mardi Gras or Halloween — the kind that can help people stay well and possibly flatten the curve.
Marissa Joyce, Katie Sonnen Lee and Melissa Vickers are the ringleaders of a local movement that has, so far, made more than 2,000 medical face masks since March 21. Stephanie Rivera is among them.
“We’ve got 700 people on our Facebook Project Mask WS group,” Joyce said. “It’s a public group, and we are trying to serve as a clearinghouse for sharing information and supplies.”
The mask, made with two layers of fabric and elastic straps, is a simple design, and has been approved by local medical facilities to use in situations where an N95 mask is not warranted, according to Sonnen Lee and Joyce.
They can be washed, dried and used multiple times. “We put them in the dryer on high for 30 minutes,” Joyce said. “The hospital will then take them and do whatever they do. We wash all the donated fabric that comes in.”
The group has set up several community boxes where fabric can be dropped off, including at ACE Hardware in Cloverdale Plaza, an essential business; and Jo-Ann Fabric on Stratford Road.
“On Saturday, we saw an article that said some people are making these masks,” Joyce said. “We asked our friends in the medical field if that would be helpful — and the hospitals responded overwhelmingly — saying they can use 2,500-plus.”
Volunteers are buying flannel, cotton, and elastic, cutting fabric to size, washing and drying the material, and sewing the masks. Several houses have been set up around town as front-porch delivery sites for finished masks.
Sonnen Lee is the logistics person, Joyce said. “I can’t sew, so that’s how I can help,” Sonnen Lee said. “We have sent them to Novant, to Wake Forest, Davie County EMS, Salem Chest Specialists, to name a few.”
Dr. Werner Bischoff, professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Health, said, “We are planning to provide our patients with these masks as they arrive at our facilities. This will significantly reduce the spread of bacteria and viruses such as COVID-19 that live in the human upper respiratory tract and reduce the risk of exposure to others. We do not anticipate giving these masks to our health care workers since the effectiveness of the material to hold back viruses is not yet known.”
“We do not yet know how well these masks will protect a person wearing them, however, placing the mask on a person will greatly reduce the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 by catching the infectious droplets emitted by the wearer in the material,” Bischoff said.
One thing making masks can do for sure: Unite the community.
“As we continue efforts to make sure our patients and staff are protected, we are immensely grateful for the outpouring of support and generosity we have received from those in our community as we navigate this challenging time together,” said Joe McCloskey, media relations manager at Wake Forest Baptist Health.
Brandy Wagenblast, a registered nurse in the Labor and Delivery Department at Wake Forest, took possession of the first 150 masks that Project Mask WS made on Monday.
“We are holding on to them, in case we run out of PPEs (personal protective equipment),” she said. “I’ve asked them to make 150 more ... for the V.A. in Kernersville.”
“It’s hard to explain what it meant to us to know that there were these women out in the community who want to help and support us.
“It’s women standing together with other women in solidarity. They figured out what was needed and they were on it.”
“Being at home can be very isolating,” Joyce said. “There are all these heroes out on the front line, and it feels good to feel like we are supporting them.
“I’ve never felt so connected to my community. It’s amazing to see how many people want to help.”
“In a time of social distancing. ... I am hearing from old friends, new friends and strangers who are all asking how they can help,” Vickers said.
Joyce, Sonnen Lee and Vickers have created a video tutorial for making the masks, and links to detailed instructions on how to sew the masks or donate fabric are at the Project Mask WS Facebook page.
“We have Google forms for people to fill out if they want masks,” Joyce said. “Forms if they want to donate fabric.”
The three women have nightly Facetime calls to discuss the project.
“It’s kind of absurd when you think about it,” Sonnen Lee said. “It’s a bright spot in all the terrifying things that are going on. There are 350 people working on this — sewing, picking up fabric, dropping off masks.
“We had no idea it would blow up like this.”