That’s the next frontier of changes for Americans in the age of novel coronavirus—and according to some Bend nurses, it couldn’t come too soon.
Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are considering changing current guidance, to begin recommending that regular people cover their faces to slow the spread of the virus, a federal official told The Washington Post in a story published Monday. That new guidance, if issued, would come with a reminder for people not to use the surgical and N95 masks used by health care workers—goods that remain in short supply for workers who need them most.
A grassroots delivery of masks for hospital employees
On Saturday morning, Eric Ottesen and a cohort of fellow nurses who work at St. Charles Medical Center in Bend began standing outside the employee entrance of the facility, handing out some of the 5,000 manufactured masks Ottesen said he had acquired by donation the day before.
The group’s goal: To get masks on the faces of anyone working in the Bend facility—whether or not they’re working with the patients hospitalized due to COVID-19. Ottesen, a nurse for the past 18 years who’s worked St. Charles for the past five, said with the widely reported shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, he and other coworkers had become increasingly concerned about adequate protection for all workers in the hospital.
During a briefing via Facebook last week, St. Charles officials said the health system’s Bend hospital is where COVID-19 patients will concentrate, should a surge of cases happen, with its other hospitals taking patients needing to be hospitalized for other reasons. According to the most recent data released by Deschutes County Health, seven people in Deschutes County are, or have been, hospitalized for COVID-19 in the county.
Acknowledging that hospital systems have protocols to work through in order to distribute any hand-sewn or donated masks to employees, Ottesen and others set out to get masks distributed as soon as possible, in what he calls “a grassroots approach.”
Ottesen said he wants to make mask-wearing the norm not just for those working at St. Charles, but also, to “make masks cool” and worn by everyone–especially those working in the public sphere, like grocery workers.
- Nicole Vulcan
- I was feeling a scratchy throat coming on Saturday, when a group of Bend nurses began handing out PPE for their co-workers at the St. Charles Bend facility. Not wanting to spread anything I might have had, I took this photo from far away, from inside my truck. Obviously, I need to clean that streak on my windshield. Also, I'm pretty sure the throat thing was from cleaning out my garage and kicking up dust, because I felt fine shortly afterward.
“I was independently trying to line up two sewing companies—Gear Fix and Rugged Thread—to see if they could do high-volume production of masks, where there’s a consistent quality oversight of the process,” Ottesen told the Source. “Suddenly, an angel appeared. One of the people we’re working with had a contact to Medical Teams International out of Portland. They made an angel donation of 5,000 masks—manufactured professional masks—droplet masks, not N95—that can be worn over N95 to preserve the N95, or for those working with non-suspected patient populations just to have more protection, so that employees don’t give it employees.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration’s description on its website, “An N95 respirator is a respiratory protective device designed to achieve a very close facial fit and very efficient filtration of airborne particles.”
Ottesen said he found out about the droplet mask donation on Friday and drove to Portland the same day. “Saturday morning, we were there at the entrance to catch the caregivers,” Ottesen said. “We have enough to give two masks for every employee in the hospital at St. Charles Bend, until supplies run out.”
- N95 respirators like this one offer "efficient filtration" of airborne particles, according to the FDA. Facing a shortage of them at hospitals nationwide, some caregivers wear a hand-sewn or other mask over top, to preserve the life of the N95.
Ottesen and other volunteers set up each morning as the morning shift arrives, and are there again when the evening shift begins. Ottesen and Katie Marks, another St. Charles nurse helping in the production of more sewn masks, said the delivery of the donated masks caused “quite a stir” among the staff. One nurse even burst into tears, they said.
“St. Charles is providing the appropriate protections for those who are rule-out or confirmed positive for COVID. They are providing that for any care provider—for anyone taking care of those patients… they are getting the right PPE for them,” Ottesen said. “We see from a common sense perspective, that everybody should be masked.” The two added that recently, their employer had relaxed the rules around home-made PPE, allowing employees to bring in their own masks at their discretion. Still, their employer is not requiring them to be worn by everyone, they said.
Further, masks already donated through other community channels, such as the Central Oregon Emergency Mask Makers, hadn’t yet been distributed to workers inside the hospital, a member of the CO Emergency Mask Makers group shared with the Source on condition of anonymity.
St. Charles and homemade PPE
Representatives from St. Charles Health System who we contacted for this story offered little clarifying info about the distribution of community-made PPE. Public Information Officer Lisa Goodman told the Source they’re working on a protocol to distribute community-produced masks to employees, but offered no more details about a timeline by press time, and referred us instead to a web page St. Charles published Friday, which states:
“To all of our community members who so generously offered to donate hand-sewn masks to our caregivers, we’re happy to say we are ready and have a process in place to start accepting them!
“We are in most need of adult-sized masks. These will not be used in place of personal protective equipment, but rather to prolong our supply.
“We’ve included some instructions which call for a slit in the top so we may insert a disposable filter. However, if you’ve already made a few without the slit, we can still use them to cover our existing supply of masks.
“When donating, please place them in a sealed bag and drop them at any of the donation spots throughout Central Oregon (dates, times and locations are listed below). Please do not take them to the hospital, as we have restrictions in place at the entrances for your safety.”
Drop spots include the 3rd. St and Hwy. 97 Albertson’s locations in Bend, St. Charles Family Care in Sisters, Wagner’s Market in Prineville, Logan’s Market in Redmond and Erickson’s Thriftway in Madras.
Moving forward with more PPE
Ottesen and Marks say they’re continuing to work with Rugged Thread and Gear Fix to ideally develop a more streamlined manufacturing process aimed at producing production-quality sewn masks. There's also a GoFundMe campaign to get the project off the ground. It's all on a donation basis, but they hope to eventually establish a process to see the companies sewing masks getting compensated.
ready to put her people to work on the project, once she gets marching orders.
"I would like to create PPE materials," Kinney said. "Whether it's N95-type filtration, or we could also be moving into shield making." Shield making, as will be outlined in a future Masking Together series story, is an endeavor recently undertaken by Bend-based orthodontists and dentists and 3-D printing companies.
One-micron filters, Ottesen said, are “as close as you can get to an N95 mask with a hand-sewn mask.” Once they know St. Charles employees are adequately masked, the two said they’d like to donate masks to other workers, like the cashiers still interacting with customers every day. To those ends, they’re also willing to accept donated, hand-sewn masks.
“If they want it on a person’s face within 24 hours,” Marks said, people can donate directly to their group.
“Our group doesn’t even have a name,” Marks said. “We’re just nurses at St. Charles, working for one another.”