Wisconsin companies and communities step up to help combat mask shortage

By  | 

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- With so many generous people wanting to do their part to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, especially in solving the shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers, NBC15 checked in with local agencies on how you can help.

UnityPoint Heath has posted an instruction video explaining how to sew homemade masks.

"[W]e encourage anyone who wants to make handmade masks to review the instructions below and start sewing!" the hospital wrote in a post on its website, adding that the staff has been "overwhelmed by the offers of support pouring in."

Click here to see the demonstration video if you don't see it below.

UnityPoint says it is currently working on a way to accept any donated masks, so they can do it safely.

They expect to be able to share soon where people can drop off the masks and any other supplies they need on their website here.

However, UnityPoint-Meriter in Madison told NBC15 that they do not know if they will be accepting masks at their location and expect to have more information on that in a few days.

UW Health doesn't want donations

UW Health, meanwhile, says it would not be able to use volunteer-made masks at this time.

"We are extremely grateful for these offers and would love to accept your help in other ways," the hospital said.

"One of the things that have come up is individuals willing to sew masks for us because they know that PPE is something that is short, and although we appreciate that effort, there are a couple of things that we have to work out on our end before we'd be willing to accept those masks," said Jeffrey Pothof, UW Health's Chief Quality Officer.

It notes that since previously asking for help, the hospital has begun working with manufacturers that can produce enough masks to meet their requirements.

SSM Health not accepting homemade masks

SSM Health told NBC15 they are not currently accepting homemade masks but are considering it as an option. SSM Health said they have gotten some manufactured masks and other donations from local businesses.

In a statement, SSM Health said, "We are currently developing a process by which we can safely and efficiently manage and store the large number of generous donations. In the coming days we will be communicating more information about what types of donations can be accepted and how to donate them."

Dane Co. Emergency Management needs N95 masks

Dane Co. Emergency Management told NBC15 they will not take
donations of homemade masks, but they are accepting any unused N95 and surgical masks if anyone has extras.

"We have quite a few construction companies that have been able to give us larger quantities, like 100 N95 masks," said Carrie Meier, Dane Co. Emergency Management EMS coordinator.

However, Meier said they are accepting donations from anyone in the community, not just businesses.

"Someone in their home shop, they have 10 N-95 masks they were going to use for a project, and we're accepting those as well," Meier said.

Dane Co. Emergency Management will give these masks to first responders like police and fire departments.

"We want to make sure obviously that our 911 response can remain active and assist our citizens out there," Meier explained.

If you have masks to donate, you can email Dane Co. Emergency Management at dcems@countyofdane.com or call 608-266-5374. Emergency Management staff will come pick up the masks.

Wisconsin companies manufacture masks

Monterey Mills, a large textile mill in Janesville, has partnered with Eder Flag, based in Oak Creek, to make cloth respirator masks that can be washed and re-used by healthcare workers.

"We're manufacturing the fabric from scratch but we're also cutting and sewing the project in our facility," said Dan Sinykin, president of Monterey Mills.

Sinykin said he relied on doctors' feedback to improve the mask's design.

"The response was yes, these are excellent for what they call barrier masks," he explained.

A barrier mask protects people from droplets in coughs or sneezes that can carry COVID-19. So far, Sinykin has received orders for 20,000 masks that will go mainly to local hospitals.

"We want to make sure that the people that are on the front lines have the right tools over their face," Sinykin said.

To request masks from Monterey Mills, you can call 877-BLANKETS or go to safeusamasks.com. Priority will be be given to hospitals, medical clinics and other responders on the front lines.