From individuals to internationally known clothing designer/manufacturer Alabama Chanin, Shoals residents are stepping up to fill the gap in providing hard to find masks and gowns for local health care workers.
The Centers for Disease Control said that where facemasks are not available, as a last resort health care professionals might utilize homemade masks, or even a bandana or scarf, as they care of COVID-19 patients, according to the CDC website.
Jess Turner, studio coordinator for Alabama Chanin, said a hospital system in Alabama contacted the clothing designer about helping them with masks and gowns.
"We have shifted our priorities to be able to meet the demands that a lot of medical providers are having right now in terms of masks and gowns," Turner said.
Alabama Chanin, she said, has plenty of 100% organic cotton material that is being used to make the items. Seven or eight members of the company's sewing team are now making nothing but masks and gowns.
"We think what we're looking at will only increase for the next two or three weeks," Turner said. "Right now, we're doing our best to provide a mask that is as impermeable as we can make it."
She said they have a good supply of the material and can layer the material to make it less permeable. They are, however, having some difficulty finding a sufficient supply of quarter-inch elastic. Some masks are being made with ties.
Turner said a local physician has been wearing a prototype mask for about a week.
She projects Alabama Chanin can make 2,500 to 3,000 masks per week.
Seamstress Lisa Clement, of Ford City, said she saw some discussions on social media about making substitute masks, so she and her friend, Charlotte, decided to start sewing.
"The two of us together have probably made 100," Clement said.
She said it's something productive they can do while they're sheltering themselves at home.
Clement said they're making their masks out of cotton as well, with some dense cotton batting sewn in between to decrease permeability.
Clement said she is using some of her stash of fabric to make the masks.
The local Jo Ann Fabric and Craft store was offering kits containing material, elastic, thread and a pattern to make the substitute masks. A representative of the local store said they gave away all the kits by Tuesday.
"We're trying to do what we can here in this crazy time," Clement said.
Florence attorney Tina Parker said she can't sew a button on a shirt, but she can help Clement and her friend find people who need the masks.
So far, they have provided masks to the North Alabama Bone and Joint Clinic in Florence, and Dalton Pharmacy in Muscle Shoals.
Parker said masks will also be given to nurses in Athens and Birmingham, which has been particularly hard hit by the virus.
Parker said a nursing home in Tuscumbia has requested 70 masks, an order they're still trying to fulfill.
"They're doing the hard work," Parker said, referring to the seamstresses. "I'm doing the easy part."
Turner said Alabama Chanin continues to receive orders for its masks and gowns.
They're also seeking donations from the local residents who might want to purchase masks to donate to their primary care physician, their pharmacist or some other local health care providers.
In the meantime, the company continues to receive orders for its other clothing products.
"Even a month ago, we could not have imagined the situation we find ourselves today," said Alabama Chanin CEO and Creative Director Natalie Chanin. "I’m incredibly grateful and humbled by the ongoing support we are experiencing, and our ability to still be operating in this environment."
"It’s a privilege that we are able to provide support for our own community and communities across the region," Chanin said. "I’m so proud of our entire team for turning on a dime and digging into this moment in time."
The Tennessee Valley Authority is doing its part to help the lack of supplies by donating 50,000 3M N95 masks to state emergency management agencies, which will distribute the masks to hospitals and medical professionals.
The CDC cautioned that homemade masks are not considered personal protection equipment since their capability to protect health care professionals is unknown. The agency said caution should be exercised when this option is used.