MOAB — Like many hospitals across the country, doctors at Moab Regional Hospital are facing growing shortages in medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, dozens of women are taking social distancing a step further and working to stitch together emergency face masks and gowns for those on the outbreak’s front lines.
Tammy Norman said she temporarily closed her business that caters to the tourism industry on Tuesday as part of efforts to avoid social interactions and slow the spread of COVID-19.
“I didn’t want to sit at home for 15 days. I called my friend and said, ‘What do you need help with?’” Norman said, adding her friend is the director of purchasing and supplies at the Moab Regional Hospital.
As the friends talked, they realized Norman might be able to help the hospital, which has been rationing face masks to make up for industry-wide shortages. Doctors said they won’t get their next shipment until August 1.
“By that evening, we had two-to-three different prototypes,” Norman said of the fabric face masks that are safe for doctors to use. The final prototype included a lining where a coffee filter can be inserted and replaced.
Norman said they dusted off their sewing machines, enlisted a small army of volunteers in the community and rolled up their sleeves to get to work — while practicing good social distancing.
The group made an instructional video for others to follow as they kept their distance in their homes.
One woman said her husband even installed a special air filter in the ventilation system to purify the air as they work.
“We’re not sure how many people are doing it because they come in and then they spread it out and then a different person picks up,” said Norman, who estimated about 100 volunteers are helping out.
Norman said they found out gowns were also running low on Friday.
“We stepped back on the masks and divided production into the gowns because Monday they’re expecting to not have enough gowns here,” Norman said.
Local hotels donated sheets for the gowns and another business is allowing its employees to sew during downtimes.
So far, volunteers have made over 70 face masks and 40 gowns, but they’re expecting several more to be dropped off.
“We’ve received calls from Pennsylvania, Meridian, Idaho; all over the country of people that are excited to help, so we say check your community first,” said Chyrrel Meyer, owner of Canyonlands Quilting. “We all have a lot of good fabric so for me it was a no brainer. We put the video together, we put it on the Delicate Stitchers Quilt Guild Website, on our church’s Facebook page.”
The volunteers said they plan on delivering the supplies to the hospital, first responders, assisted living homes and Meals-on-Wheels.
“They don’t receive them sanitized, we can’t do that, but the hospital and our police department have a way to sanitize them when they get them so they can use them,” Norman said.
“The outpouring of support we’ve had is truly remarkable,” said Dr. Dylan Cole, chief medical officer at Moab Regional Hospital.
Cole said instead of using a new face mask for every patient, they are getting one per week.
Moab Regional Hospital hasn’t seen its first COVID-19 case yet, but Cole said it’s only a matter of time before his staff is also on the front lines of this pandemic.
“It’s so necessary for healthcare workers to protect themselves and also not be a factor of further transmission of this illness,” he said.
It’s how each small stitch becomes part of a larger labor of love for the volunteers.
“This is bringing hope. People in town have been afraid, frustrated and scared. Then they take an elastic and when they’re done cutting, their fear is gone,” Norman said.
Cole posted a message on the Moab Regional Hospital Facebook page urging the community to contact elected officials and ask them to increase the production of medical equipment for hospitals.
“No homemade mask has yet shown to be as effective as a medical-grade mask and thus is not considered FDA approved PPE,” officials said. “For that reason, our providers will only use homemade masks as a last resort, once we run out of current FDA approved PPE.”