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Locals answer the call to make face masks

Two pieces of blue-floral cotton, thread, elastic, experienced hands and a caring heart. That may be all that separates sickness from health and life from death for cancer patients and workers at a hospital in Maryland.

"These are very, very sick patients. We don't want to spread anything to them," said Sandy Rozzelle, whose job is to get medicine for cancer patients. "We want them to be safe, as well as us too."

Rozzelle wouldn't normally wear a protective mask for her job at Frederick Health Hospital. But these are extraordinary times. She is grateful that Niwot resident Diane Zimmermann is sewing masks for her and others who want the added layer of protection for patients and themselves. Her hospital is reserving its tight supply for medical personnel who are in direct contact with patients.

The Niwot-Maryland connection seems unlikely. It came through Zimmermann's sister, who is friends with Rozelle. They all grew up in the same neighborhood, never knowing how their skills would intersect later in life.

"It's an absolutely wonderful thing for people to do what they can to help everybody out. Everybody has a talent, hers is sewing," said Rozelle.

Zimmermann has been a seamstress since she was 13. It's mostly a hobby, though she has sold home decor pieces. She's one of many sewers who have answered the call to make protective masks as parts of the nation face a dire shortage.

"I thought, holy cow, I can totally do that," Zimmermann said. "I'm sitting here feeling helpless and that, I can do."

Supplies are tight for healthcare workers making it even harder to get protective gear for those on the periphery of the medical system or in other jobs where masks could reduce transmission of the coronavirus.

"I can keep myself busy and help with the safety of people in my community," she said. "It makes me feel good, but more than anything it makes me feel useful." Zimmermann can make close to 50 masks in a day and has given most away in Colorado.

Word of mouth and social media have helped her distribute the free masks to local individuals who are especially vulnerable. She contacted the owners of the Niwot Market who said they could use masks for their employees. Zimmermann is also connecting with other local businesses and health care providers.

The masks Zimmermann makes are CDC-compliant, meaning they follow the guidelines from the federal government's Centers for Disease Control. They require two layers of tightly woven 100% cotton and have other specifications. The masks can be washed and sanitized for multiple uses.

Zimmermann has been using yards of unused fabric in her stash and some elastic, which is in tight supply. When her own elastic ran out, she used social media sites Facebook and Nextdoor to ask for donations. People came through.

The idea caught her eye when she saw a clip of how to make masks on television. The pattern came from The Turban Project and was posted on Indiana's Deaconess Hospital. There are now several sources for compliant patterns including Joann's Fabrics, which is offering free and discounted materials for people making masks. The company says it has donated enough material to make 1.5 million masks and counting.

Joann's is also collecting the finished masks and distributing them. The Boulder store is donating to Boulder Community Health, which operates Foothills Hospital and other medical offices.

BCH says it has a good supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for now but is accepting donations as part of its long-term preparation, citing the unknown duration of COVID-19 in the community. The organization says it appreciates the outpouring of support from people who want to help. "It's been amazing," said Marketing Manager, Celanie Pinnell.

One of those offering support is Jennifer Sharp of Gunbarrel. She first heard about the mask drive from her mom in Seattle, the first hot spot in the nation for the coronavirus. She has her mom's sewing machine which is nearly as old as she is at age 42.

"I have the skills, being able to sew. But who knew that would help later on in life? It's nice to be able to feel like you can do something to help. As a person that's a doer, it just seems natural," said Sharp.

Sharp is immersed in the process. She listens to a podcast about epidemiology while she sews. "For me, what helps the most is education. There is so much misinformation."

She's also educated herself on other types of masks that don't depend on elastic. She found a pattern for masks that tie behind the head. They fit different head sizes and can be used as an extra layer over other protective gear. She knows the homemade masks aren't perfect and that people need to take additional precautions.

"It's not the case that you're invincible with a mask. You still have to wash your hands and you don't want to touch your face," she said. "Compared to nothing, it's something."

In a war against an invisible enemy, the homemade masks are a visible sign that people care about one another.

For more information, please contact Diane Zimmerman at [email protected].


Reader Comments(1)

Lisa writes:

Can you provide contact info to purchase a locally made facemask?