KENNESAW — When Katie Surgala and her two daughters were stuck at their Kennesaw home amid school closures and social distancing, they decided, like many others, to use their extra time to help others by making face masks for the sick and those in healthcare.
Video tutorials and patterns for homemade masks abound on the internet as people all over the country are working to fill a gap for healthcare providers that are seeing shortages in supplies. In response, many people are making cloth masks at home and giving them away, though some are selling the masks.
"We’re always looking for ways as a family to help others in need. We saw this, and my girls wanted to help," Surgala said.
The mother and her daughters, Sammy, 13, and Emme, 8, got to work. Emme Surgala cut squares of fabric, and her older sister and mother used the sewing machine to make masks from cotton. They made about 35 and gave them to health workers including nurses and dentists, as well as the assisted living facility where Katie Surgala's parents live.
Ashleyanne Hensley, school director of The Georgia Ballet, has made dozens of masks made partially from costume materials at her house. She estimates she has about 300 masks in progress for healthcare workers.
"It was, this is so easy to do, I can do this. It gives me something to do while staying home and also help out," Hensley said.
Hensley is the founder of a Facebook group, Fabric Face Masks for Healthcare, which she started to find help sourcing materials like elastic that are also in short supply. She's found the group has grown to have a national reach, she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that homemade masks like the cloth ones made by volunteers should be used as a last resort when certain approved types of masks aren't available.
But health care workers like nurses have been asking their communities to chip in to make masks more available.
On the CDC website, a brief statement is offered on homemade masks:
"In settings where facemasks are not available, (healthcare personnel) might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, 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 (health care personnel) is unknown.
Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face."
Hensley called the cloth mask "great for backups and also for those that are going into places that need to be sterile, radiology techs, people that are not faced directly with the virus itself."
Like Hensley, Surgala has also recruited people to help supply materials to make the masks.
"I’ve had lots of neighbors reach out and say they can’t sew, but they want to help. I had one order some elastic to send to my house," she said. "It’s kind of bringing everybody together."
WellStar Health System spokeswoman Trish Nicolas said that the system receives supplies like face masks through a national program, but inventory could change.
WellStar is monitoring staffing levels and its supply chain to make sure there are enough people and materials for patient care, Nicolas said in a statement. The system has access to additional supplies through the Strategic National Stockpile in partnership with public health officials.
"Our biggest challenge currently is educating the public about self-care and the impact of social distancing or self-isolation to contain the spread of the coronavirus and to appropriately conserve the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and when to reach out to their healthcare provider if their symptoms worsen,” she said.
For some examples of tutorials on making face masks, visit www.youtube.com.