Jane Sweeney said she was shocked when a fellow member of the Lakeview Quilters Guild approached the guild’s board of directors and told them that staff working with mothers and babies at UTMB Galveston were unable to wear masks due to shortages amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“So there they were, without any kind of masks,” she recalled.
After seeing increasing amounts of Facebook posts related to area mask shortages, the Seabrook resident decided to take action. Sweeney has since spearheaded efforts in the Bay Area to make fabric masks for donations to local medical centers and others in need.
Initially, the goal was to make 100 masks. As of the evening of March 31, Sweeney said she and approximately 30 other workers have made nearly 400 masks.
The guild member who first alerted the board of this issue also said workers were forced to share masks at some hospitals given the shortages, leaving a mask outside each room and only using it in that particular area, Sweeney said. The Nassau Bay-based quilters guild frequently engages in community service efforts, such as making quilts for nonprofit organizations such as Bay Area Turning Point, she added, so members were able to coalesce for this larger-scale effort.
Specialized, tightly fitting N95 masks are still considered most effective at filtering out tiny virus particles—but the fabric masks are better than having none at all. The pattern used by Sweeney and other mask makers includes a filter insert so that workers can add extra protection.
“Keep in mind—although these masks will help slow the spread of [coronavirus,] they are not virus-proof—but—they will make a difference,” Sweeney said in a Facebook post. “I am not the expert on these—just trying to coordinate the effort.”
Sweeney owns Minuteman Press-Bay Area at 1040 Hercules Ave., Houston, which is being used as the drop-off location since printers are considered essential and still open for business. People often drop masks off anonymously or even send them directly to medical facilities, so the number of mask-makers is likely higher than 30, Sweeney said.
Since the mask-making has started, other organizations or individuals have begun requesting them, including League City-based Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Texas, Baywood Crossing Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Pasadena, The Rio at Mainland Center and Kelsey-Seybold Clinic-Clear Lake. One family contacted Sweeney and asked for masks so they could safely celebrate a relative’s 92nd birthday.
As supplies dwindle in area shops, mask-maskers have gotten creative, using things such as hair ties in place of elastic and florist wire, twist ties or ornament hooks for makeshift nose bridges, Sweeney said. She added that, given the guild’s quilting focus, fabric has been in plentiful supply.
“Quilters, we have a lot of fabric, so we haven’t needed any fabric,” she said.
Mask-makers can drop off masks between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday in a clean plastic bag. Mask patterns are available at www.clearlake.minutemanpress.com.