In an effort to conserve and extend the supply of masks and other personal protective equipment, hospitals in Iowa and around the country are asking for help from people who can sew — and sewists (or sewers, depending on which term you prefer) have stepped up to the challenge.
Mercy Cedar Rapids, Mercy Iowa City and UnityPoint Health-Cedar Rapids are among the hospitals in Iowa who have put out calls asking for volunteers to craft cloth masks. University of Iowa Health Care put out a request for protective face shields earlier this week.
All four hospitals have an “adequate supply” of personal protective equipment, Dr. Dustin Arnold of UnityPoint Health said last Friday at a press conference. This supply has been extended with hospitals canceling and postponing surgeries and people staying home. For every surgery postponed, at least four personal protective equipment are preserved, he added.
“The thing that keeps me up at night is if this surge would happen across the country all at the same time,” Arnold said. “Everybody would need those masks, and it would be difficult to get them.”
Mercy Cedar Rapids is doing its best to use the current supply as effectively and efficiently as they can, said Isaiah Corbin, director of volunteer services at Mercy Cedar Rapids. The hospital started working on a program to collect cloth masks from volunteers early last week and put the call for masks on social media last Friday.
“Over the weekend, we just received so many wonderful calls and emails from volunteers from the local Corridor area, but also, it was almost a nationwide story,” Corbin told Little Village. “We got calls from people that wanted to send masks from Florida and Arizona. It was really, really cool to see the response from everyone that wanted to help and support us.”
Corbin said the hospital has collected almost 2,000 masks from volunteers as of Wednesday. The hope is to collect 5,000 masks.
“This was really a perfect project for us to engage the community and for the community to show us that support, and I think we both kind of needed a good, positive feeling in the midst of kind of all this chaos that’s unfolded over the past two weeks.”
“These masks, we’re hoping that they don’t get to the point where we have to use them for situations where personal protective equipment is required,” Corbin said. “We still want to use up personal protective equipment to protect our frontline caregivers.”
The cloth masks are intended to be used in lower-risk situations or as a supplement. For example, they can be worn over an N-95 mask, Corbin said. This protects the N-95 masks and keeps them covered, so they could be used more than once.
The cloth masks are also given to all employees, as well as patients experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness, such as coughing.
People interested in sewing masks for Mercy Cedar Rapids can find the instructions online. Completed masks can be dropped off in a collection box by Mercy’s 10th Street entrance. Drop off hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Masks for UnityPoint Health in Cedar Rapids should be delivered to St. Luke’s Foundation, 855 A Ave. NE, Suite 105. There will be a box for the masks to be dropped off. Instructions and the materials necessary are online.
And masks for Mercy Iowa City can be donated Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. People are encouraged to call Mercy Materiel Management at 319-339-3647 to schedule an appointment to drop off. The suggested mask pattern is online.