PLEASANT HILL, Iowa -- As the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) searches for more personal protective equipment (PPE) for the healthcare workers in the frontlines of COVID-19, some are trying to help the cause by sewing homemade masks. While some hospitals aren't accepting these homemade masks due to safety protocols and not being approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), sewers say there's still a need for them in the community.
"A friend of mine had shared a phone conversation she had with her sister who works at MercyOne downtown and she was saying how she's run out of masks and they were having to wash them and reuse them. So I called my mom and said, 'do we have any leftover material? Is this something we can make?'" Co-Director of the dance studio, Amanda Nalevanko said.
Usually, it's all about rhinestones and tulle, but with dance classes currently cancelled because of social distancing and COVID-19 concerns, those at Becky Nalevanko's Dance and Tumbling Studio decided to sew something different, face masks.
"All of our teachers here are also seamstresses they make costumes, so it didn't take us long to pick it up," Owner, Becky Nalevanko said.
Finding instructions online, they got to work. In just a matter of days, they've made over 200 masks and counting.
"We've had lots of people reach out. They've wanted them for themselves. They want them to use at work. They want them for their grandparent's care facilities," Amanda said.
"[Also workers in] special needs facilities. They are still trying to make connections with their clients and they picked up some because they were without," Becky said.
Nalevanko's dance studio realizes these masks aren't ideal. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says N95 respirators are best, blocking about 95 percent of airborne particles. However, in a crisis or last resort, the CDC said these handmade masks can be used. That's why for many in the community, they'll take what they can get.
"We've gotten much quicker in the process. The first day we did about 50, but now we're doing about 100 a day," Becky said. "We will continue as long as we have people requesting them."
Some Des Moines metro hospitals are declining donations of these hand-sewn masks. MercyOne Des Moines said in a statement:
MercyOne Des Moines and West Des Moines medical centers are humbled by Iowan’s continuing desire to assist us. At this time, MercyOne Des Moines and West Des Moines are not accepting hand-sewn face masks. The safety of our patients, providers and colleagues is our top priority.
MercyOne is deeply committed to providing the appropriate level of personal protective equipment (PPE) for all of our colleagues, and we continue to work daily with local and state government agencies and are exploring partnerships with businesses to secure additional PPE as we navigate a national supply challenge. We, along with other health systems, use PPE according to CDC guidelines. If you are able to donate factory-made PPE (N95 masks, gowns or face shields), please contact Joan Bindle at the Mercy Des Moines foundation at 515-643-8020 to donate.
We will continue to monitor the guidelines from the CDC, IDPH and Polk County Health Department. In the meantime, the very best way to show your support is to practice social distancing and staying home whenever possible. We also encourage you to share a message of your support on social media for our colleagues using the hashtag #PowerofMercyOne.MercyOne Spokesperson
MercyOne would not speak directly about the rationing of N95 masks and if they were washing them for re-use. The CDC does mention extended re-use of masks as a crisis capacity strategy.
The Polk County Health Department also said they are not encouraging hand-sewn masks at this time. They said they would like to exhaust their PPE donation supply before they think about creating these handmade masks.
"It's more than just the hospital. Individual people are asking them for themselves and there's no fee. We are just doing this to keep us busy and give something that kind of helps the community," Becky said.