Schell masks

Nancy Schell displays one of the protective facemasks that she made at her home outside of Athens. She’s among a number of local residents who have been pitching in to supply these items during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. 

With a serious limitation of PPE (personal protective equipment) at medical facilities throughout the country due to the rising threat of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, protective facemasks are probably the greatest need.

With that in mind, local residents, along with Passion Works Studio in Athens, have jumped in to begin knitting and stitching their own protective facemasks.

Athens City-County Health Department Administrator Jack Pepper said in a letter to local resident Nancy Schell – one of the grassroots leaders of the mask-production effort – Saturday that the Health Department “fully supports” further development of this project.

However, it is important to note that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said in a guidance document that homemade masks are not considered PPE, and should “only be used in scenarios where personal protective equipment is unavailable.”

Still, Dr. James Gaskell, commissioner of the City-County Health Department, said Tuesday that the Health Department welcomes the homemade masks and will donate them to local health-care providers; just call the Health Department first to arrange a drop-off. He thanked everyone involved with the homemade mask-design effort.

“We’re not sure what our surge will be like but indeed a lot of places are running out of PPE, and one of the things they’re running out of is facemasks,” Gaskell said.

Those facemasks are critical because they help prevent those with coronavirus from spreading it further through droplets of water when sneezing or coughing, among other reasons, Gaskell said.

Gaskell reiterated that per the CDC guidance, homemade masks are not considered PPE, although again, if supplies of standard masks run out, those might end up getting used by health-care professionals and others. They do provided some protection, though not as much as the approved facemasks.

Patty Mitchaell, executive director of Passion Works  Studio, asked people who want to get involved with the effort to make masks to follow the Passion Works Facebook page for more information and updates.

Mitchell said that as of yesterday, she and other volunteers are waiting on more guidance from OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital on preferred protocol for design of the masks. To this point, no masks have been delivered yet, but Mitchell assured that the masks will be sanitized before use.

“We are being absolutely vigilant in being the best that we can” in making the masks, Mitchell explained.

Mitchell said Passion Works artists are working on some masks now, but said that she’s trying to slowly ramp up those efforts as best-practice information makes its way to her and other volunteers.

A spokesperson for OhioHealth O’Bleness said in a news release on Tuesday that the Health Department is collecting homemade masks currently for the hospital to use “in the event that they become necessary.”

Schell, a former director of a program in the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, kept busy Tuesday at her home outside Athens designing some colorful masks of her own. (Schell has a daughter who’s an R.N. in a Columbus hospital where supplies are running short.)

Local resident Iris Virjee also has been creating facemasks from her home. She noted that even people without sewing machines can create their own facemasks, and suggested finding resources online that have templates (she also posted her own method on Facebook, which you can see here).

“I posted my method with the hope that creators without a sewing machine can adapt to my shortcut instructions, and then we can have more people making masks for themselves and their friends so that the most vulnerable communities can have access to the limited professional N95 masks,” she said.

For anybody looking to keep up with these facemask creation efforts, again, follow the Passion Works Facebook page as well as the Mutual Aid Southeast Ohio Facebook group. We’ll update this story if we receive more information from OhioHealth or others on best practices for designing the masks.

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