By Tim Jagielo
Fenton Twp. — This past weekend, medical staff at hospitals across Michigan turned to an unlikely source for their dwindling supply of facemasks — the crafting community.
The COVID-19 pandemic has lead to a run on the N95 facemasks worn by medical professionals to help protect them from illnesses while treating sick patients. Hospitals are possibly facing a shortage in the near future, and sewists (term they use) and crafters across the state took to social media to share designs and updates on their progress.
Keri Lay started the local Facebook group “Masks for Medical Staff” after hearing that a physician friend of hers considered sewing masks himself. The result has been more than 500 masks made over the weekend, to be donated to medical professionals on the front lines of this pandemic, and staff at doctors’ offices and nursing homes.
This group is making washable masks with a removable pad made from disassembled furnace filters.
They started Thursday March 19, and have grown to more than 300 members who’ve created a vibrant, active community of volunteers from the Fenton area and beyond.
Through this group, a virtual factory complete with supply chain and distribution sprang up in a few days. Members donate funds for supplies like fabric and furnace filters, or drop off materials on Keri’s porch.
Some run materials back and forth.
Others, like Keri’s mother Harriet Lay, sew the masks. Keri’s husband Michael is one who disassembles the furnace filters and cuts them into mask inserts. “I think everyone’s kind of just looking for someone or someway they can help,” Keri said.
Harriet, also of Fenton Township, had sewn five masks on Saturday, March 21, just hours after the preferred design was decided.
“I just happen to love sewing so it’s right up my alley,” she said, adding that it’s a simple, enjoyable way to help. “We’re hoping they’re effective.”
The jury might still be out on what these masks block. There are no available studies on their effectiveness.
However, the best furnace filters can remove “virus carriers,” according to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).
The Facebook group is seeking and using furnace filters with a minimum of 1900 MPR (microparticle performance rating), and no fiberglass. based on input from medical professionals.
Local hospitals are seeking supplies for donation, like gloves and N95 masks. Officially, they’re not accepting handmade masks, though Keri reported that staff using them have been allowed to wear them.
A 2013 study shared by the National Institutes of Health reports that N95 masks are more effective than homemade, but it’s better to use homemade than no mask at all during an influenza pandemic.
During this pandemic, Ker i said the group will make as many masks as possible — until the material runs out, or if it’s decided they shouldn’t be used.
Join the “Masks for Medical Staff” on Facebook if you’d like to get involved.