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The mask makers

Local quilters help hospital with mask conservation

SARANAC LAKE — Amid a global coronavirus pandemic, certain medical supplies are experiencing shortages, even in hospitals. Communities around the world are working with hospitals to keep medical facilities stocked, including a coalition of around 110 quilters in the Tri-Lakes.

These knitters, seamstresses and upholsterers have put their needles to work to create a supply of fabric masks for Adirondack Health, which are used to extend the lives of the disposable N95 respirators.

“Quilters are generally in-groups, and they coalesced around this one particular cause,” said Adirondack Health Foundation Executive Director Hannah Hanford, who is organizing the hospital donations.

Patricia Randolf-Clark is a nurse practitioner with a private practice in Saranac Lake and a quilter. She said several Saranac Lake quilting groups saw efforts around the country to create these masks for hospitals and when they started organizing their own she got in contact with the hospital to confirm it can actually use the products.

“If someone in the community wants to do something altruistic and it is going to be down the road, perhaps enhance the protection of the staff, we’re always going to say yes,” Adirondack Health spokesman Matt Scollin said. “Everything is at a premium right now. Without knowing how many patients are going to be coming in, without knowing how severe they are going to be … we’re trying to look at every available opportunity to maximize the resources we have on hand.”

The quilters — with members representing Busy Bees Quilters, Pine Tree Quilters and quilters from Piece by Piece Studio and the Saranac Lake Adult Center — have created prototypes of the masks using hospital-approved, tight-woven fabrics.

Scollin said now that the hospital has a reliable source for fabric masks it will be able to focus on finding other supplies, and can accept donations from the community, as long as products meet certain standards.

“We’ll have more than enough coming from this group,” Hanford said.

She said anyone looking to donate supplies to the hospital should bring unopened boxes of N95 masks, surgical masks or safety glasses.

While the fabric masks cannot act as a substitute for the N95 respirators — they let in fine particles the N95s keep out — Scollin said that they can be used over an N95 mask to lengthen the life of the disposable respirator.

Hanford said that by using the fabric covers health care professions do not need to take their N95 off after seeing each individual patient. They can just take off the fabric cover, which can be sterilized and reused. She said this is sort of an “eleventh hour backup plan.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has said fabric masks can be used on their own as “a last resort,” preferably with a plastic shield.

The N95 masks are used by health care professionals who may be coming into contact with someone who has contracted the coronavirus, and sometimes by patients. Patients are more likely to be issued a standard surgical mask to block the spread of the bacteria, leaving the respirator masks available for the healthy to avoid contracting the airborne virus.

“It’s another sign of what this community can do,” Joy Cranker, one of the mask-makers, said.

Scollin said Adirondack Health currently has a good supply of masks and that they check inventory every day. However, he said the hospital has likely not hit its peak usage yet, as there have not been many confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the area, relative to other regions of the state.

“Our supply is sustainable for now, but we’re also not burning through them yet,” Scollin said.

He said that within a week or two he anticipates the rate of people presenting to the hospital with coronavirus symptoms will shoot up, and then the mask supply will be strained.

“Our (per-week mask usage) rate went up considerably when directive came out of (the state Department of Health) to mask all employees at Mercy Living Center,” Scollin said.

“We are extremely grateful to the community for stepping up. It’s been awesome.”

Scollin also said that Tom Broderick from the Northwood School reached out and is 3D-printing plastic face guards, which guard from the forehead to near the chest. Hanford said hoteliers and and other lodging owners have offered discounted rooms to hospital staff who do not want to pick up or drop off the coronavirus at their homes.

Scollin said that many people have offered to donate meals to hospital employees. However, the hospital cannot accept home meals due to bacteria concerns. He said that people have bought staff gift cards to local restaurants instead, to help local businesses.

Hanford said she has been “overwhelmed by generosity.”

“If there was any way that we were caught flat-footed in this response, it was in not anticipating the response we’ve received from the communities we serve,” Scollin said. “They’ve turned out in a way that is pretty humbling and pretty heartwarming.”

To make donations, Hanford said to call the foundation office at 518-897-2348 to arrange a drop-off at her office at the Historic Saranac Lake building.

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