Companies, households, making face masks in battle against spread of COVID-19

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When pediatrician Dr. Roderick Davis ran out of face masks at his office in Rochester, his sickest patients — children with coughs and fever — couldn’t see him in the office and so had to go to the hospital. That’s when friends and family sprang into action. Those who could make masks at home joined what is a growing movement by home sewers and local businesses to fill a shortage of protective wear in the battle against the spread of COVID-19.

“Any mask is better than no mask,” said Davis, who has since received some of his usual supply of surgical masks. But homemade masks continue to fill the gap — and the happy, colorful fabrics can put a child more at ease. Davis said that no matter what the material is or how many layers of material are used, a mask creates a protective barrier. “It is very effective,” he said.

A mask prevents spreading germs from a cough, which is one the ways coronavirus is spread.

What kind of mask?

The most effective mask is the federally regulated N95. It protects the person wearing it from airborne particles and from liquid contaminating their face.

While homemade face masks are not “state-of-the-art,” said Davis, those made with a pocket for inserting a filter offer more protection than a homemade mask with no filter. His office ordered activated charcoal filters online to insert in pocket masks.

Word spreads quickly and in Naples, Dr. Davis’ sister Becky Trzeciak has been sewing masks for his office and other offices that need them.

“She’s an amazing sewer and has a whole studio,” said Trzeciak’s neighbor, Lauren Hirsh, who was inspired to get her whole family involved. Trzeciak taught Lauren’s daughter, Lily, to sew. All three kids — Lily, 11, Turner Hirsh, 9, and Ada Griffin, 10 — all participated and made 40 masks for their first batch.

Lauren said the kids cut out the fabric and elastic and all tried their hand at sewing, with Lily making a few on her own. They made the simplest masks, which don’t have a filter pocket, and will be useful especially for the healthier kids to wear at the office.

In Bloomfield, Dede Sprentall Colwell, a school nurse for the Rochester City School District, is at home making face masks for anyone who needs them. “There are still so many people who are working with people,” she said.

Colwell this week offered her masks to people working around town. Dollar General accepted about half a dozen, along with the gas station and The Big M grocery store taking masks for their workers.

“They are so glad to get them,” Colwell said.

“It’s all a team effort,” said Davis. “What these individuals are doing is an example of people in a hard situation thinking first and foremost about how to help others.”

Industries answer the call

Hickey Freeman Tailored Clothing, one of the oldest companies in Rochester known for men's suits — shuttered along with many other businesses due to the pandemic — reopened this week to manufacture medical masks.

“The goal is to make 100’s of thousands of masks to help flatten the curve,” the company announced in a release. The masks are headed to Rochester General Hospital for the medical staff.

In Canandaigua, Select Fabricators — maker of tent enclosures — this week began making masks through a team effort with Turbett Surgical. The masks were designed last week, and production is now in full swing at the plant on North Street.

At Hickey Freeman, CEO Stephen Granovsky said in a release: “We have hundreds of the best sewing machine operators in the country. When Rochester General made the request, of course we answered the call. We will do whatever it takes. This is a small contribution compared to the health care workers we are helping protect.”

The HFTC factory is now manufacturing with an initial on-site staff, which will grow as needed. The facility had temporarily closed its operations to safeguard the health of the hundreds of highly trained employees who work in close proximity. New practices for distance and disinfection are being implemented to protect the staff brought back to make the masks.

Rochester General Hospital services a community of 200,000 residents and currently uses 15,000 masks each day. That number could potentially increase due to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, according to the release.

Hospital personnel worked closely with Jeffery Diduch, HFTC Vice President of Technical Design, to create a protective mask that can be used by their staff.

The company said more than 7,000 people have volunteered to help. HFTC is considering expanding its capacity by producing at-home kits for volunteers who have the skills and ability to contribute.

“I expected there would be people in the community who would want to help, but the response has exceeded anything I could have imagined,” said Diduch. “In this time of crisis, Americans are ready to do what they can. It’s truly inspiring.”

HFTC added it is seeking sources of medical-grade materials with the goal of expanding the distribution of protective masks on a broader scale.

Check out how to make a mask with a filter pocket

Here’s where to buy activated charcoal filters online