Community group creates masks, gowns, face shields

The group has mobilized volunteers in Smithers and throughout the Northwest

A new Facebook group in the Northwest is bringing volunteers who can make protective gear together in the wake of the pandemic.

Mark DeHoog and Shelley Goble are coordinating the efforts in Smithers and are in regular contact with Dr. Darren Jakubec who works at Bulkley Valley District Hospital.

DeHoog said there are hundreds of volunteers working from Prince Rupert to Burns Lake with all different sets of skills. He said people who can sew, have design skills and 3D printers and those who can help with logistics are all helping out.

“This is a grassroots, multi-person, multi community initiative to support the process of flattening the curve,” added Dehoog.

In Smithers, the focus is on making masks with a goal of 500 in the first run.

“Masks are one target area that we know there is a demand from around the globe. There are call outs from many who are looking for masks. There is a great deal of discussion around the public use of masks and there has not been testing done outside of a clinical environment on a mask’s efficacy. No evidence means it’s not been explored in this scenario but doesn’t mean it should not be considered and should not lead us to not using a mask,” he said.

“Since we don’t have the luxury of time for rigourous experiments to wait for those tests to come back to give certainty, it would be better to err on the side of preparedness and caution. Masks are in fact being utilized by certain countries and new data suggests that if a person is wearing a mask as a means to not protect themselves from getting the virus but to protect others, it does decrease transmission. This new data suggests that if everyone does that in their public use it will diminish the demand for masks on the system and in essence, contribute to flattening the curve.”

DeHoog said there is currently no concern about supply chain for certain critical items in Smithers, however he said there are some areas of shortages in caps and gowns, and face shields.

“We thought that if we could engage groups of people who had the know how throughout communities who could mobilize quickly if needed.”

The Facebook Page uniting and organizing the movement is called Mask Makers for Northern BC Covid Crisis.

On the page it said organizers are still working with emergency management but they are already so grateful for the overwhelming community support.

“They are making sure that masks being made are identified for potential Emergency Use Only. We certainly hope that they won’t have to be used, but we will be prepared should they be,” the page says.

DeHoog said every community in the Northwest has a lead and attempts to respond locally to what the needs are in their area. For example Terrace is focused solely on gowns and caps. The Terrace organizers are also asking any community agency, organization, or business that has N95 masks to give them to the hospital.

Eryn Collins, a spokesperson with Northern Health said unfortunately at this time they are not accepting homemade items but they do have a process in place to help manage potential donations of other unused and unopened supplies.

“We are very grateful for all of the offers we’ve had from people, organizations and businesses to donate things from protective equipment, to financial support, and offers of time,” she said.

“We’re asking that anyone who has something they wish to donate, to email the details to ppe.donation@northernhealth.ca – partly so we can determine if the item(s) can be used in a healthcare setting. Donors are also asked to not drop off items at individual facilities without permission or having made clear arrangements to do so.”

DeHoog said they are not suggesting Northern Health should use their masks.

“That is not our goal,” he said. “But if anyone did need them they would have a means to access them. We just wanted to be ready in a last case emergency fall back for anyone who has need. There are already businesses and other agencies/organizations who are accessing them— this in itself takes pressure off the supply chain. We don’t know how this will play out over the coming months. We have mobilized an active group of eager community members who are ready to help. This in itself is an important part of our sharing the challenge. What we know now is that if there is a need we can produce hundreds of masks on demand.”

There has been controversy over the effectiveness of wearing masks to prevent getting COVID-19, but DeHoog said any tool is only effective if you use it correctly. He knows a cloth mask is not as effective as an N95 mask. “We fully agree, but it is still significantly better than not having a mask at all. We would like to encourage everyone to save N95 masks for those who need them most. For example those working in COVID positive spaces and wear a cloth mask whenever you go out in public. This approach is proving to be effective elsewhere – why not here?”

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