Protecting those who protect the community

Local residents rally around health care workers, help create masks

Travis Vencato, left, and Lukas Kelso sort flexible nose pieces made at contractor Dan Perkins’ shop in Ishpeming. Crafting the aluminum is just one part of a major effort to donate thousands of cloth protective masks to Marquette County health care workers, emergency responders and workers in other essential industries. (Photo courtesy of Dan Perkins)

MARQUETTE — Residents of the Marquette County community have rallied around its health care workers in the wake of a predicted shortage of personal protective equipment to create cotton masks that can be worn by the people on the front lines of the COVID-19 virus epidemic.

Residents and local businesses are working toward a goal of distributing 10,000 protective masks that will be used by people who work in Marquette county hospitals, emergency response organizations, home health and hospice, adult care service facilities, police and essential service industries.

Masks for Marquette will donate the handmade cloth masks, each crafted to identical specifications complete with two pockets, one for a filter approved by local health care professionals and another for a nose piece fashioned from aluminum.

Initial deliveries of the masks were made to UP Health System-Marquette and Bell on Tuesday, Masks for Marquette organizer Sally Steen said in a Facebook post.

“In order to keep our volunteers safe we are having UPHS staff count the masks for us as they sanitize them,” Steen said. “As soon as we meet our requested mask delivery from them, we will start delivering to nursing homes, police, emergency services and essential services.”

The masks will be used to cover commercially made N95 respirator masks — which block at least 95 percent of very small test particles to prolong their useful life and with a filter if a mask is not available.

“It is not meant to replace normal medical-grade masks but rather a stop-gap until they can get more of those resources,” the Masks for Marquette GoFundMe page states.

In order to produce the masks, organizers are looking for more sewers, supplies like elastic, and funds to purchase mask filters.

“We need elastic,” Steen said in an Thursday email to The Mining Journal, “both 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch. The whole country is sold out. My last order was canceled. What we need is for every person in Marquette County to check their sewing supplies and then the next time they go to the grocery store or hardware store drop it in the Masks for Marquette collection bins.”

She noted Econofoods in Marquette, Larry’s Foods in Gwinn, Ace Hardware in Ishpeming and Ace Hardware in Harvey are collection sites for masks and supplies but advised against making a special trip out to the store.

“We don’t want anyone going out and putting themselves at risk just for this or breaking the stay home order,” Steen said. “If someone has a large amount, we have one errand person that could potentially pick it up.”

Marquette County Medical Care Facility infection preventionist Krystal Heikkinen said MCMCF currently has adequate stock of personal protective equipment for its employees, but has been unable to replenish some of those supplies from normal channels.

She said some MCMCF employees are part of the Masks for Marquette movement, and the facility will use the locally crafted product when the need arises.

“That’s just to be in preparation for if our supply runs out, so that we would have something,” Heikkinen said.

Dozens people with sewing experience and multiple local businesses that have been shuttered due to the outbreak have stepped up in a variety of ways.

“This thing is taking off and it feels awesome to be a part of it,” local contractor Dan Perkins, who is providing space for volunteers to craft aluminum nose pieces at his Ishpeming shop, said in an email.

Marquette Jeweler Beth Millner began creating nose pieces for the masks early in the effort and placed the items on her company website so they can be ordered more easily.

In an effort to ramp up production, several local contractors including Perkins, Shawn Seelen, Jim Manty and Jack Tonge have donated aluminum seed stock that is being fabricated into the metal nose pieces. Once the initial request for masks for UP Health System facilities in Marquette County is made, nursing homes, home health workers and emergency service workers’ requests will be fulfilled, organizers said. Heikkinen said she and other people on the front lines of the crisis are grateful for the communty effort.

“I would like to say thank you to all of the individuals who are making masks,” Heikkinen said. “This is a very scary time for everyone, you know, whether that’s health care professionals, police officers, people who are coming into contact when we have to do our job to make sure everyone stays as safe as possible. So to have them and their support, to add maybe a layer of protection that might have it (the virus) is great and to see the outreach of the community is great.”

For more information, or to donate financially, visit the group’s GoFundMe website at www.gofundme.com/f/masks-for-marquette. To volunteer to sew masks or get more information on the effort go to the Masks for Marquette page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ groups/2537441899832367/

Lisa Bowers can be reached at lbowers@miningjournal.net.


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