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Published on April 07, 2020

Volunteers use sewing skills to protect front-line COVID-19 workers

Sewn Mask Donations

Face masks are a simple piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) that helps guard doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers from airborne droplets of the coronavirus, COVID-19, but hospitals in some regions are running low.

That news didn’t sit well with Dorothy Bassett of Harwich. Her father was a firefighter and ambulance driver in Chatham and other family members have worked in healthcare.

“They’re already rationing supplies in some areas,” said Bassett. “We need to do everything we can to keep people safe.”

Bassett decided to help healthcare workers here on Cape Cod and is helping to coordinate a network of seamstresses across the region to sew face masks for Cape Cod Healthcare.

“There are a lot of ‘makers,’ people who enjoy building and creating and innovating,” she said. “It’s cool to see them all switch gears to help the greater good and use the skills they’ve built to do that. I'm working to connect the people who want to help with the people who need it.”

Bassett reached out to her friend Tressa Lyonne of Truro, who has extensive experience in sewing and dress making.

“When Dorothy asked if I could help produce PPE for the frontline workers during this pandemic, I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I’d been looking for a way to provide real help,” she said.

‘We need to support those most at risk’

Lyonne did some research and made some samples to find a multi-layered design that would not be overly labor intensive. It incorporates nonwoven interfacing, which acts as a filter and mimics the polypropylene layers of factory-made models. She tweaked things to come up with a design that could be used by people with different kinds of sewing experience.

“I put my own spin on the design to provide the best possible protection for medical staff and provide something that can be quickly changed out and something that's comfortable,” she said.

The masks include elastic that keep them snug to the nose and around the chin. Lyonne makes them in batches and her goal is to average 50 a day.

“I’m asking anybody who can work a sewing machine, or is able to just cut fabric, or do anything to assist, that they please do so,” said Lyonne. “This is the time when we need to support those most at risk.

“I was talking to a girlfriend the other day and she said, ‘This is so great because it feels like we’re making socks for the troops overseas.’ The way I feel about it is healthcare workers are risking their lives every day, so the least that I can do is work to help protect them. There are so many hands at work right now to help provide this protective gear. We’re doing our best to join the fight.”

So far, the team of volunteers has donated hand-made masks to Cape Cod Hospital, the Chatham Fire Department and Broad Reach Healthcare, which operates a skilled nursing facility and rehabilitation center in Chatham.

“I want to take care of the people who are in my community,” said Bassett. “If we don’t keep our frontline workers healthy, then we’ll really be in a bad spot.”

Anyone who wants to volunteer can contact Bassett at dorothyabassett@gmail.com

People who want material or patterns or who have sewing machine problems can contact Lyonne at tressathelion@icloud.com. Donation of eighth-inch elastic, braided elastic and cotton fabric is welcome.

“People who are sewers tend to have these things laying around,” she said.

Volunteers Making Face Shields

Bassett’s efforts extend beyond the face masks. On Saturday, she drove to Boston to collect 317 face shields, another form of PPE, that were made by volunteers coordinated by Chad Bennett, owner of Dark Monk, a company that makes equipment for fire spinning and performing arts.

Bennett reconfigured his fabrication studio to make sturdy face shields similar to police helmet shields, an effort he has named the Charlestown Face Shield Project. Bennett consulted with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Cape Cod Healthcare, and Karen Burke of VDA to design a prototype. VDA is a tradeshow booth designer and manufacturer.

The team hopes to contribute a total of 5,000 face shields to Cape Cod Healthcare.

“I’ve got six volunteers behind me right now who met each other three hours ago and are just cranking them out,” he said. “It’s about the person who’s getting up every day knowing they’re going to risk their life when they go to work. We’re trying to support them in any way we can.”

The face shields built by Bennett and his team of volunteers will be used at Cape Cod Hospital, Falmouth Hospital, Cape Cod Healthcare urgent care centers and the offsite testing facility at Cape Cod Community College. At the time of publication, 600 additional face shields have been delivered to Cape Cod Healthcare, and over 2,500 shields have been made and distributed across seven hospitals in New England.

Bennett consulted with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to design a prototype. He hopes to contribute a total of 5,000 face shields to Cape Cod Healthcare.

The face shields donated by Bennett and his team of volunteers will be used at Cape Cod Hospital, Falmouth Hospital, Cape Cod Healthcare urgent care centers and the offsite testing facility at Cape Cod Community College.

tressathelion@icloud.com