MURRAY — People in Murray and Calloway County are taking the time to work on personal protective equipment (PPE) to go to help medical workers who may need extra resources. Corrie Johnson, whose husband works as an RN at the Murray-Calloway County Hospital, said she needed something to do to feel like she was helping. She wanted to provide others the opportunity to help as well, that is why she and others have been working to create face masks according to CDC guidelines as a means to help.

“I’ve seen several reports of hospitals across the nation who have run into critical shortages of PPE, and have resorted to asking for and receiving donations from people who can sew,” Johnson said. “Some healthcare professionals have been asked to reuse disposable PPE. That puts them at risk. That puts their patients at risk.”

Johnson said that the CDC has a list of recommended alternatives to medical grade PPE and offers ways to extend the life of existing supplies. Johnson said she invited others to help after seeing some of the work a friend in Washington had done. Johnson said she hates to sew, but considered this a labor of love.

“Honestly, I invited others to help on this after seeing another friend in Washington show a set of forty or fifty masks she made. I thought, ‘I can do that,’” she said. “It's a labor of love for me with plenty of cussing involved. Haha. But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts so if others are willing to help—and I have more than a dozen sewists volunteering—we can knock out a thousand easily,  quickly, and lot more cheerfully than me sitting at home chugging out 50 masks by myself. Gov. Beshear has asked us to stay home, not torture ourselves.”

Johnson said that people were ready and willing to help with the endeavor, but there is a lot of overlapping information out there.

“There are countless ways to be helpful, and there are several ways people have helped this project. Besides my seamstresses, we've had more than $400 and plenty of fabric donated,” Johnson said. “The masks cost about $1 each to make; a bit less since so much fabric has been donated. Donated funds go right back into purchasing supplies.”

Johnson said the masks that are being made are not commercial medical grade masks, however, she said they could be used to prolong the longevity of the PPE hospitals already have.

“Each of the masks has two layers: an outer shell of cotton and a lining of polypropylene, which is used in N95 masks. Obviously, as homemade masks, these are NOT certified medical grade, but they are better than nothing, and certainly better than using a bandanna in a pinch,” Johnson said. “We're using a pattern other hospitals have requested, and including a pocket so that an additional piece of disposable filtration fabric can be inserted.”

MCCH announced Tuesday that they would be taking donations of commercial equipment, and the masks being made by Johnson and her group are not commercial grade.

“My husband is an RN so I just texted several of his coworkers to feel out the need, get an idea of their concerns and what they're thinking. That provided a good place to start,” Johnson said. “MCCH has said they're well stocked on supplies and I think that's great. The community should feel confident and protected by that. And at the same time, knowing you have people in your corner to help with something like this should the local need arise is peace of mind, if nothing else.

“I've made contact with hospitals, nursing homes, and care centers from Paducah to Nashville and you can hear the relief in people's voices just to know others are prepared and ready to help. The nursing homes have been overwhelmingly eager to receive these donations.”

Johnson clarified the difference between commercial grade masks, and some of those that can be made according to CDC guidelines.

“They are not certified medical/commercial grade. And we're not claiming they are. But we are going by the CDC guidelines for using alternatives, and the materials that entails,” she said. “I want to be very clear that we are not producing medical grade surgical masks. This is the 2020 version of our grandmother's Victory Gardens or knitting socks for soldiers.

“Medical grade equipment is designed to filter out contaminants much more effectively than other fabrics and manufacturing design. Tight weave cotton DOES help, but it's just simply not as effective - not by a long shot. Cotton filters out larger particles—like dust—but isn't as effective on the macro level. Many hospitals receiving mask donations are utilizing them in non critical areas or doubling them over the rationed medical grade masks they have so they don't have to throw away those as quickly.”

For those interested in helping Johnson and her group create masks, she can be reached via email at cojoville@gmail.com.

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