Nimble-fingered volunteers, donated cloth and elastic, Jefferson and Clallam counties: They’re coming together to make masks to fight the spread of COVID-19.
“We have been floored with the generosity of donations from our community members,” Clallam County Health Officer Dr. Allison Unthank said earlier this week.
Local residents are bringing masks and other protective gear to the Emergency Operations Center at the Clallam County Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St. in Port Angeles, and those donations are “keeping our health care workers and first responders afloat,” she added, “as we wait to see if we will get any assistance from the state and federal government.”
Likewise in Jefferson County, people are sewing and sharing materials. The county website, co.jefferson.wa.us, provides a pattern and instructions for preparing and delivering them; these guidelines are found by typing “community mask project” into the search box at the top of the home page.
Completed masks should be placed in a zip-lock bag with the donor’s name and contact information on or inside it, and multiple masks in one bag are OK, according to the site. Four mask drop boxes await donations in Jefferson County: outside the Jefferson County Library, 620 Cedar Ave., Port Hadlock; outside the Port Townsend Public Library, 1220 Lawrence St., Port Townsend; Food Coop book drop at 414 Kearney St., Port Townsend; and Quilcene Community Center book drop at 294952 U.S. Highway 101, Quilcene.
Volunteers also are making face shields for health care workers. These are used over the face masks and cover the entire face, Unthank said. They are being put together at the EOC.
Fabric stores in Port Angeles and Port Townsend have donated mask-making materials, and their staffs are seeing vigorous interest.
“We’ve had four or five people per hour come in and grab a kit,” said a worker at Jo Ann Fabrics in Port Angeles. The store, at 150 Port Angeles Plaza east of town, also serves as a drop-off point for finished masks.
Its current hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
“We are actually getting a good influx,” said Clallam County Emergency Operations Center coordinator Anne Chastain.
She encouraged mask makers to drop their donations at their local fire station or at the county government center. As with all trips to such places, people should practice social distancing and sanitizing — and stay home if they feel unwell.
Ashley Portilla, who opened District Fabric in downtown Port Townsend a year ago, has also donated the ingredients for mask-making.
“I’d say I’ve sent them to about 50 people,” she said last week.
“It’s been overwhelming,” but Portilla also sees the return on her efforts: Bags of finished masks dropped off in the box behind her shop at 634 Water St. District Fabric has been closed since March 22, while Portilla and her sole employee are still running the business online at DistrictFabric.com.
Home-sewn cloth masks are not as effective as hospital-grade surgical masks, Unthank noted, but for health care providers, they’re better than seeing patients bare-faced.
“There is actually data on this from experiments done during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, the last time we thought we might run out of masks,” she said.
“In those experiments, they found that the masks do help and that two-ply flannel or quilt-weight cotton were effective options in filtering viruses,” Unthank said. “There are a lot of possible patterns, but key aspects are that the mask is two-ply and covers the nose and mouth.”
Said Dr. Tom Locke, Jefferson County public health officer: “Handmade cloth face masks are better than nothing and nothing is what many health care workers and family care takers are facing.
“I fully support local production of handmade masks,” he added. “The federal government has let us down in terms of a strategic national stockpile of masks and protective equipment. We have no choice but to make our own.”
Two masks keep doctors, nurses and first responders safe: the one on the medical provider and the one on the patient, Unthank siad.
Laundering the masks with soap and water kills the virus and reduces the number of masks used, she said, and keeps surgical masks available longer for medical providers.
Home caregivers, police and shelter workers are among those also needing masks, and the cloth kind are being distributed to them, according to Unthank.
“These volunteers and donations,” she said, “are amazing. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.”
Diane Urbani de la Paz, a former features editor for the Peninsula Daily News, is a freelance writer living in Port Townsend.