COLORADO SPRINGS – As officials warn people that the virus can spread through talking, breathing and can stay on surfaces for hours, volunteers are stepping up to create homemade masks.
Alexandrea Dillon began sewing when she was just 11-years-old. She started a business out of it at 15, after making a wedding dress the bride loved. She even made her own dress, the most beautiful of her creations with a needle and some string.
“I’ve always loved to sew, it’s been my hobby and very briefly my profession,” Dillon said.
Her one-time escape into relaxation is now anything but as she uses her science teacher background and Brother Industries sewing machine to churn out dozens of masks a day from the basement of her Banning Lewis Ranch home.
“There are law enforcement officers that, if we had masks for them, would be wearing them today and they’re going barefaced because we just haven’t made them yet,” Dillon added.
Dillon takes it personally. She started making masks for her family, then reached out on Facebook to offer her time for elderly and immune-compromised neighbors. In the two weeks since, she and hundreds of volunteers have made over 3,800 masks with requests for 4,700 more from law enforcement agencies, fire fighters, and the community’s hospitals, according to Dillon.
“It’s a lot of pressure because this is so emergent. Disease vectors are spreading like wildfire because of how the virus spreads through respiratory droplets,” she said. “So I know when somebody calls me and says, ‘I don’t have anything for my deputies,’ they needed them two weeks ago, not the two weeks it will take us to make them.”
The group, Merry Mask Makers, is on Facebook and Dillon says, will accept the help of anyone with a sewing machine.
The masks are from a pattern put out by Deaconess Hospital in Indiana. The group will make masks with two 100 percent cotton (based on the peer-reviewed research Dillon found) fabric and, because of a donation from Shield 616, a medical-grade fabric in the middle offers basic protections for whoever is wearing it.
It’s not the N95 or surgical masks needed in hospitals, but as a global shortage of both products continues, Dillon hopes it helps them improvise.
“Tfhese masks can go right over an N95 mask and it protects and preserves it,” Dillon explained. “So many nurses are given one N95 mask to last a day or even a week and they’re not meant for that. They’re meant for one patient.”
Dillon’s desire to make masks for her own family make her ahead of a recent push in the United States requiring everyone to wear a kind of cloth covering for a person’s face even if they’re not sick.
The Centers for Disease Control has not yet issued that guidance for the country, despite reports it could soon come.
“We’re calling on the CDC to follow what seems to be pretty good evidence across the world that wearing personally made masks can make a difference in slowing this,” said Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado.
Bennet joins Sen. Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, in pushing the CDC to change its stance.
The evidence both Senators refer to in their support comes from new understanding from health experts that the droplets from just talking can infect someone with COVID–19. They also cite the long-known fact that people infected with the virus are contagious even before they show symptoms.
Bennet said communication is key to ensuring people don’t use masks as a hall pass to venture away from staying at home.
“This is not something that replaces social distancing,” Bennet added. “It’s something that makes social distancing more effective and I think the public can understand that.”
Meanwhile, Dillon is hoping more people reach out to help make masks. She says, join the Facebook page and invites people who want to help to call her at 719-502-9391.
“It’s just an amazing group of women,” Dillon said. “They are so dedicated and so profoundly worried about our city and they really want to help.”