Only a few months ago, most Americans gave little thought to (PPE). Today, it’s on the tip of everyone’s tongue and in hot demand as a shortage of masks, gowns, and other supplies for health care workers is a problem nationwide. In an effort to help,  residents have stepped up with some creative solutions for local healthcare workers to protect themselves from potential coronavirus infection.

In mid-March, Christy Stockton grew concerned when she read Facebook posts from healthcare providers who were frustrated with N95 shortages. As someone who sews, she wondered if fabric masks would be a worthy solution, and she reached out to several local physicians for their recommendations. Stockton then spoke to her neighbor, Ashley Tubb, and together they decided to seek fabric donations and volunteers to sew face masks. Tubb created a closed Facebook group, Operation Medical Supplies, on March 20, and publicized the group through social media and the Junior Woman’s Club of Wyoming homepage.  Within weeks, the group was flooded with requests for fabric masks as well as offers to sew. After interviews on Channel 12 and Spectrum TV on April 7, the group was made public on Facebook.

April 2020 - Christy Stockton of Operation Medical Supplies

Christy Stockton offered to sew fabric face masks for healthcare providers after learning about shortages with N95 masks.

Most of the volunteers with Operation Medical Supplies are Wyoming residents. There are at least 30 people who sew masks, plus volunteers who pick up fabric donations, cut fabric into mask-size rectangles, or deliver completed masks. Stockton and Tubb were not surprised by the enthusiastic offers to help from all over Wyoming, but they didn’t anticipate the number of requests for fabric face masks from home healthcare facilities, nursing homes, and even doctors and nurses on the frontlines. Their initial concern was that the group might end up with a surplus of masks, so they had a backup plan to donate masks to oncology units.

Stockton estimates that Operation Medical Supplies has made and distributed over 2,200 masks in the four weeks since she and Tubb started the group. Operation Medical Supplies is providing masks only to healthcare providers, due to the high demand. The fabric masks have been donated to local hospitals, numerous nursing homes and home care programs, Bethany House Services, and Ronald McDonald House.

April 2020 Assisting Hands wearing fabric masks

Caregivers from Assisting Hands Home Care are grateful for the fabric face masks from Operation Medical Supplies.

Frontline Workers are Grateful for Fabric Masks

Wyoming resident is a supervisor with Developmental Disability Services, coordinating with numerous agencies to provide in-home care to developmentally disabled people. Brown was involved with Stockton’s group from the beginning, and affirmed the need for fabric face masks.  Brown has received 200 masks to distribute to the direct care staff, who prepare meals and help with medication, feeding, bathing, and housekeeping. Brown is grateful for the face masks from Operation Medical Supplies. “These caregivers do not have the option to work remotely during this crisis,” says Brown.  “They are essential workers, ensuring the health and safety of people with disabilities. If we can keep people healthy at home, at the grassroots level, then we are not overwhelming our healthcare system.”

Mary Martin, a Wyoming resident and the marketing coordinator for Assisting Hands Home Care, echoes Brown’s praise for Operation Medical Supplies. She has distributed 200 fabric face masks to senior clients and the caregivers who provide Alzheimer’s and dementia care, post-surgical care, grocery shopping, housekeeping, meals, and personal care. “These masks have a tremendous impact on improving the health, well-being, and safety of our seniors and caregivers, as well as their families,” says Martin. “The impact that Christy Stockton and the entire Operation Medical Supplies team has made on seniors and caregivers cannot be underestimated. Assisting Hands Home Care can never thank them enough. The people who are fortunate enough to get these masks truly feel the love and dedication represented in every stitch.”

How You Can Help

Operation Medical Supplies accepts donations of cotton quilting fabric, cotton flannel, and elastic, as well as monetary donations to purchase supplies. For more information about donating or sewing, contact Christy Stockton on the Operation Medical Supplies Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/groups/3180516905294226/

April 2020 - Dr. Natalie Kreitzer with PPE

Dr. Natalie Kreitzer holds a simple disposable plastic sheet that can be used as a barrier to protect physicians when intubating a patient with coronavirus.  The plastic sheet has three openings, reinforced with duct tape, for the physician to reach through the sheet to guide an airway tube into the patient’s trachea.  

A Creative PPE Solution for Local Doctors

PPE of a slightly more technical sort was on the minds of two Wyoming physicians recently as well. The local doctors found a creative solution to protect physicians during the delicate process of intubation to connect a patient with COVID-19 to a ventilator. Natalie Kreitzer, a Wyoming resident and emergency medicine physician, is on the front line caring for COVID-19 patients in the emergency department and the ICU at University Hospital. One of the challenges with COVID-19 patients is the need to minimize the spread of coronavirus particles during intubation (inserting an airway tube into the patient’s throat when they can’t breathe).  Kreitzer found an idea online, using plastic sheeting and duct tape, to make a disposable barrier between the patient and the physician. She contacted Steve Carleton, a fellow emergency medicine physician at UC and also a Wyoming resident, and they created a prototype out of a dry cleaner bag, based on the design Kreitzer found on the internet. They agreed it was a good, easy, and inexpensive solution, and they made a video to show how to make and use the plastic sheeting. Kreitzer then bought rolls of plastic sheeting and made a number of the plastic covers for use at University Hospital and West Chester Hospital. The idea has been shared with fellow doctors in Cincinnati and around the country.

April 2020 Operation Medical Supplies fabric masks

Make Your Own Fabric Face Masks

Wyoming residents won’t need to replicate Kreitzer’s plastic sheet solution, but many people in Wyoming are now wearing fabric face masks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recommended that the general public wear fabric masks if they have to leave their homes, and N95 face masks and surgical masks should be donated to hospitals. Instructions to make a simple rectangular fabric masks are easily found online, and can be created using a sewing machine or hand-stitching.  Jo-Ann Fabric’s website has patterns and video demonstrations for various fabric mask styles. You can also find mask instructions on the Operation Medical Supplies Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/3180516905294226/

Many online retailers also offer fabric masks for sale.