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Hundreds of metro Atlanta volunteers make masks for doctors, nurses

CDC guidelines permit healthcare professionals to wear homemade cotton masks as "last resort" if the HCPs do not have any medical masks.

ATLANTA — People are looking for any and every way they can help during the coronavirus pandemic. And one way that many are helping is simply by making cloth masks -- at home -- to give to healthcare workers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said homemade masks can be used by healthcare providers, with caution, as a last resort.

Over the weekend, hundreds of volunteers across Metro Atlanta started making the cloth masks at home, for nurses and doctors and other healthcare professionals - creating masks by the thousands.

“A friend of mine is a doctor,” said Jeanne Pete, and she said the doctor told her, in desperation, last week, “’we need (Personal Protective Equipment) PPE,'  and so, I don’t know how to sew, but I know how to pull teams together to get stuff done.”

So on Friday, Pete started a Facebook group, “Mask Making for Atlanta Healthcare Workers,” with instructional videos showing the sewing patterns and the stitching, with tips on the designs and sizes that healthcare professionals said they need.

And within hours, hundreds of people had joined the group, making masks. More joined over the weekend--some who were able to sew and others who were able to donate not only the 100-percent-cotton fabric, but also the elastic for the straps.

“We even had an idea yesterday to cut up a fitted sheet, and pull the elastic out of that,” said Erin Preiser, one of the volunteers.

Preiser is now sewing one mask after another at home.

“It makes me feel great that I’m able to do one, tiny little portion to help," Preiser said. "This is something that I can do in my own home while my kids are doing school online to help our community. And it’s amazing to see so many people in the community coming together to help all the healthcare workers.”

The volunteers know that the cloth masks they are making are not what healthcare workers should be using, in “normal” circumstances.

“I know it’s not standard, N95 masks, with respirators, but people are going out with nothing, and we’ve got to keep our healthcare workers safe and alive,” the organizer, Pete, said. “Yes, we know these are not CDC standard materials, but with the CDC coming out and saying, ‘wear bandanas,’ we thought, well, we’re going to do the best that we can and provide as many masks as possible, and whoever wants to wear them, can, and whoever doesn’t, does not have to.”

According to the CDC, “in settings where facemasks are not available, health care professionals might use homemade masks [such as bandanas, scarfs] for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort." 

The CDC adds, however, "homemade masks are not considered personal protection equipment” and if healthcare workers do use the them, caution should be exercised.

And many are using the homemade masks that Pete and the volunteers are sewing and delivering to them.

“They are begging. They’re saying, ‘Please add me to the list’,” Pete said. “Until we get the right masks, something is better than nothing.”

Home healthcare nurse Jessica Herndon is beyond grateful for what the volunteers are doing.

“It’s incredibly meaningful,” Herndon said. “It’s very humbling that so many people want to come together in an effort to help healthcare providers across Metro Atlanta."

"The need is tremendous. There are so many healthcare workers who are wearing N95 respirator masks for a week at a time, because there are not enough masks to go around," Herndon said. " Even though they (the homemade cotton masks) are not medical grade, they are providing some form of protection for healthcare workers -- doctors, nurses, CNAs, phlebotomists, across the board, and just to have some kind of protection is phenomenal.”

Pete said that, as of Monday, the volunteers who were sewing were running short of cotton cloth and elastic bands, and were hoping more people would sign on to the Facebook group to donate supplies. 

And everyone was hoping that healthcare workers will not need the volunteers’ homemade masks much longer, as supplies--promised by the state--are delivered.

“I’m hoping we can provide thousands and thousands of masks for Atlanta,” Pete said. “Until we get the right masks, something is better than nothing.”

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