The work starts at the dining room table, cutting pieces of fabric in 8.5-by-8.5-inch pieces, saving Laura Foust an extra measure later. Then in a room with items that make her happy, from pictures of family members to plants and sewing materials, Foust folds, measures, checks for frays, cuts and snips pieces of headbands and improves efficiency and quality of the masks she is making for family, friends, neighbors and Tri-County Health Care.
“Anything I can do to save the life of people from … the spread of this. It’s just horrifying what’s happening, and any way that I can be a part of the solution that’s what I want to do,” Foust said.
As a “long time” sewer and retired occupational therapist, Foust of Aunt Lora’s Sewing in Wadena said making masks will help protect healthcare workers on the front lines as well as friends and family, although a mask does not completely eliminate the risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. Foust recommends that people wash their masks in hot water along with a hot dry.
“Having worked in health care I know how easily that (viruses) can be spread and I wanted to protect myself like when I went to the grocery store and the post office, things that I couldn’t avoid … and I just felt safer myself,” Foust said.
With the process down to a rhythm and quantity and quality in mind, Foust spends four to five hours daily making the masks. Foust uses leftover fabric or scraps from previous projects, which she is delighted about saving.
“I’m just making them as fast as I can,” Foust said.
Throughout the process, Foust has changed the materials and space available for filters in the masks, both finding ways to make the masks more secure and save time. She started with prototypes of two layers of cotton fabric before transitioning to one that includes a furnace filter, and for the Tri-County ones she follows a designated pattern that allows N95 filters to fit.
While Foust hasn’t counted the exact number she’s made, she estimates upwards of a couple dozen since March 16, all free of charge. She isn’t alone in this endeavor either, Foust knows of friends who have orders coming in online and other community members working with the hospital on masks.
“It’s like the sewing community is coming together to do this. I feel like it’s a war and this is our war effort. (Laughs) It’s what we can do, we can sew, we can do it,” Foust said.
The sewing community and Tri-County staff efforts continue with people making gowns and masks and local companies including Scotty’s Upholstery in Henning and Sourcewell making face shields and Lakeshirts in Detroit Lakes making masks, according to Tri-County director of strategic marketing Andrew Ronningen and communications specialist Taylor Lunemann.
Lakeshirts started making masks with their embroidery machines two weeks ago for area hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, according to an email statement from marketing manager Mike Sidders. A smaller team is running the business operations during the stay at home orders.
“We have been open in order to support efforts in building these much needed medical supplies,” Sidders said in the statement.
One of the challenges Foust, owner and operator of Scotty’s Upholstery Glenn Scott and Sourcewell Tech Mobile consultant Aaron Logan mentioned was the availability of elastic. Scott said he used the elastic he had on hand and is on a backorder list for more.
After being asked by Tri-County about two weeks ago if he was interested in making face shields, Scott followed a pattern from the internet to construct 116 face shields, with a dozen going to the Henning ambulance crew. An order for 200 more is already in.
“I wanted to do something to try to help out the situation,” Scott said. “I was trying to take it seriously. We all got to do our part and do whatever we can to help each other.”
The face shields are made from 20 gauge clear marine vinyl and tin plates along with foam, elastic and tape that Scott cuts, glues and saws. On April 3, another company had sent him frames and he set out to make another pattern.
While Scott has been in business since 1973, the shop is open by appointment only due to the stay-at-home orders, though he’s using what he can to make face shields, another woman is making masks and he gave 90 yards of material to the Henning ambulance crew for gowns.
At Tri-County the gowns are made by over 40 people with provided material from Tri-County along with specified patterns, according to Ronningen. Ronningen said the donations from community members and businesses, such as treats from Leeseberg’s Sweet Treats Bakery and Walmart, are “really refreshing” and “very helpful.”
“It’s hard to know sometimes how much or little that a community values an organization, right, until they show it like this, like they are spending their time and money, in some cases buying their own material, to donations from lots of businesses,” Ronningen said. “It’s just reassuring to know that the community’s supporting us.”
The support continues with masks and face shields from Sourcewell. Logan uses 3D printers normally found in Sourcewell’s Staples office that are now in his basement, according to a Sourcewell news release. The mask designs are based on information from Tri-County as well as Sourcewell staff, totaling 20 masks and five face shield frames over a period of approximately two weeks. The masks and face shields are in a preliminary testing phase, where after the elastic and filters arrive, the completed items will be sent to Tri-County’s lab for testing for effectiveness, according to the release and Sourcewell’s public relations and communications specialist Jenny Holmes.
Each mask takes approximately four hours to make, with one printer for face shield frames and the other for masks and filter holders, according to the release. The hope is to offer the masks and face shields to other regional hospitals and clinics once the design has been tested, according to Sourcewell director of regional programs Paul Drange in the release.
“It directly supports those on the front lines of this pandemic. It’s a great way to support and provide a service for our communities using our resources in an innovative fashion. And, personally, I love helping people and working with these machines, so it was a no-brainer for me to take on this project,” Logan said in the release.
“I thought it would be a great ‘Day of Caring’ for my students to do to give back to the community who does so much for our school,” Winkels said in an email.
Students received directions online along with a YouTube link to follow Tri-County's guidelines. Winkels said the students have “embraced making the masks with heart” and she is proud of them for participating in the project even though asking questions is in a different format. Seventy masks have been made thus far, with another 100 cut and assembled for her, her daughter and the students to complete, according to Winkels.
“It feels like I am doing something that makes a difference. With the shortage of masks and my ability to sew, it is a way I can help be productive in a time where it feels like everything is spinning and gives hope,” Winkels said in an email.
For other donations of personal protective equipment, a table is set up to drop-off items outside the Wadena Clinic main entrance. All donations are accepted but specific needs include manufactured medical-grade N95 masks, clear plastic face shields, safety goggles, safety glasses, used scrubs and sealed bottles of hand sanitizer.