MONROE — Although homemade masks would only be used in a last resort situation and Monroe isn’t experiencing depleted supplies at this point, Sarah Olmstead wants to be prepared if and when the time comes.
She started a mask drive for Green County through her business Facebook page: Simply Olmstead, hoping to have a stockpile ready if local health care workers and first responders do become short-handed on masks.
Olmstead is a member of the Green County EMS and said when she saw what was happening in Italy, one thing she particularly noted was that the mask supply comes from areas that are getting hit hard by the COVID-19 epidemic.
As the surge in mask usage increases, Olmstead wants to help.
“Typically, in an average month, I might mask for one to two calls,” Olmstead said.
But now, almost all first responders are “masking” for every call, for safety purposes. Emergency room staff are doing the same.
We do caution the use of homemade masks. There is some evidence homemade masks can increase the risk of infection. It would be a means of last resort. It’s great to prepare and have that, but at this point and time, we’re doing OK.RoAnn Warden, Green County Public Health Director/Health Officer
Green County Public Health Director/Health Officer RoAnn Warden said that homemade masks aren’t recommended for use. However, they could be used in the event that there was nothing else available.
Warden said they have been taking inventory of how EMS services are doing and where supplies are at with health care systems and so far, there isn’t yet a need for using the homemade masks.
“We are doing OK right now,” Warden said.
According to the Center for Disease Control, in settings where facemasks are not available, health care workers might use homemade masks, or a bandana or scarf, for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered personal protective equipment, since their capability to protect is unknown.
“We do caution the use of homemade masks,” Warden said. “There is some evidence homemade masks can increase the risk of infection. It would be a means of last resort. It’s great to prepare and have that, but at this point and time, we’re doing OK.”
Warden said the “Safer at Home” order issued by Gov. Evers went into effect March 25 and would likely help conserve supplies like masks because there was less interaction.
“We’re strongly advising people to follow the rules,” Warden said.
Masking for all calls is a precaution they want first responders to take as neighboring counties see increased community spread.
Warden also noted that some companies have made donations of supplies for health care workers by giving them extra masks and other things they may need in this time of crisis.
Olmstead said the only mask that would truly prevent the spread of COVID-19 would be an N95 respirator, but the mask drive is to simply stock for an emergency situation.
“They’re better than nothing,” Olmstead said.
A homemade mask with three layers of cotton provides close to the same level of protection as a typical surgical mask, Olmstead said, but not entirely.
“A lot of people have questions about their effectiveness.” She said. “We can’t mass produce N95s but we can give people the protection of a simple surgical mask.”
She said she wanted to start the drive early to help health care workers so they can have the option if they need it.
Kaileigh Koch, Monticello, is a 13-year-old seventh grader and is currently stuck at home. She’s been sewing for a little over a year and is now spending some of her time making masks to help the drive.
Her mother, Laura Palmer, works in the medical field and is also an EMT. That’s made Koch really want to help.
Koch is at high risk; she has chronic asthma and annually ends up with pneumonia, Palmer said. But she does enjoy helping others.
“We know these masks will not be the maximum protection,” Palmer said. “But running out of masks at this point is a real possibility and something is much better than nothing.”
The two made their own pattern, and every day Koch works on more masks.
“I am super proud of her willingness to help others,” Palmer said. “I love her heart and determination to make something positive out of a scary situation.”
Those who are interested in helping with the mask drive should visit the Facebook page: Simply Olmstead or the website www.MillionMasksMonroewi.com where she has posted mask options, tutorials and patterns. Although they are recommending that people make and donate 100% cotton masks that are three layers, they will accept others.
Olmstead said she is in charge of arranging pickup points, which will likely not include interacting with people, and the masks will be taken to a central location to be washed, sorted and distributed.
“The response so far has been awesome,” she said.