Sewing community steps up to help with COVID-19 medical mask shortage

Major supply shortages at hospitals have the CDC advising using bandannas and scarves as a last resort when treating patients with COVID-19 if no face masks are available.

Providence Saint Joseph is instead calling on people who can sew to help with homemade masks. The hospital is distributing kits of medical grade material and asking people who have sewing machines to make face masks.

The kits are still being assembled before distribution and Quality Sewing and Vacuum is a shop in the sewing community waiting for the fabric to make masks for health care workers.

“We all just want to figure out how we can help. What we can do,” said Carmen LaPonte, one of the owners of Quality Sewing and Vacuum. The family-owned business has 13 locations in the area.

Providence recently posted a plea online saying: “For those in the Seattle area with a willing heart, the ability to sew and a sewing machine, we have an opportunity to help make masks now. We created kits that will include all the materials you need to make 100 masks.”

The hospital said the kit includes medical-grade material that has been lab tested and is not available for purchase commercially.

Just this week, hospitals reported nurses hanging masks on the wall for re-use later.

Volunteers and hospital staff at Providence were assembling plastic face shields

Plus, there are calls for mask donations at multiple hospitals, including Overlake Hospital and Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“It’s a very serious situation facing this shortage,” said Jennifer Bayersdorfer, chief quality officer for Providence Saint Joseph. “Looking at our own need for these masks, the first back of the envelope was we need a million masks over the next 30-45 days,” she said.

The hospital said so many people signed up so quickly, they’ve already run out of the 1,000 kits. Providence is still working to figure out how the kits will be distributed on Monday – whether they’ll be mailed out or if people can come and pick them up, drive-thru style.

Quality Sewing says they and others in the sewing community are ready to get to work.

“Sewers and crafters are some of the most generous people. They love making things for others,” LaPonte said.

“We're just trying to do everything we can to help in this uncertain time,” she said.

Providence said it plans to work with a third-party company next to distribute more kits to volunteers.

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