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SALT LAKE CITY — A partnership between Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah Health and Latter-day Saint Charities, the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is asking for the communities help to sew medical-grade masks for frontline caregivers treating COVID-19 patients.
On Friday, in a joint digital press conference, the organizations announced Project Protect — a community initiative to create personal protective equipment for health care workers to help prevent a shortage of the equipment in the state.
“We’ve never done a partnership like this before,” Sister Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, said. “It’s a unique solution to a problem that has probably never been seen.”
That unique solution? Having volunteers sew medical-grade material acquired by Project Protect into masks.
The collaborative project is asking for 10,000 volunteers a week over the next five weeks to help sew the masks. The plan is to provide 5 million of the in-demand masks to hospitals throughout the state.
Infectious disease experts at both University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare tested the fabric and approved the design for the kits.
“This is the largest ask for volunteers in our community since the 2002 Olympics,” said Dan Liljenquist, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Intermountain Healthcare.
Volunteers can register and request kits to sew masks at projectprotect.health.
“Anybody with a little bit of experience and a single needle sewing marching can help make these masks,” Sister Eubank said.
Volunteers will be assigned to pick up their kits at one of five Deseret Industries located in American Fork, Harrisville, Layton, Murray or Riverton. There they will receive a kit filled with the material to make 100 masks. After sewing the masks, volunteers will return to the same location to drop the masks off. Intermountain will sterilize the masks and package them for use.
It should take volunteers about five minutes to sew each mask.
“This is such a unique opportunity,” Sister Eubank said. “We all want to volunteer when there is a disaster. This is something very critical and very productive that each of us can do.”
The project began on March 29 with the organizations coming together in response to the shortage seen around the globe of personal protective equipment.
With the supply train drying up for the needed supplies, the goal was to come together to find a way that the hospitals could handle a surge in COVID-19 patients.
“Project Protect will literally put a life-saving barrier between us and COVID-19,” said Dr. Jeremy Biggs, medical director of occupational health at University of Utah Health. “It’ll give us masks and other PPE made of this special material that we need to protect us.”
The project will also help provide medical face masks and gowns to health care workers in the state.
On Thursday, the partnership completed the design of a medical gown which will start to be produced by church-owned Beehive Clothing beginning hopefully next week.
“These are washable gowns, that we can wash 75 times,” Liljenquist said. “So the goal is to start producing between 30,000 and 35,000 gowns a week, beginning hopefully in the next couple of weeks, as material comes in. That will help meet the needs of Intermountain Healthcare and the university but also provide a surplus to the community so that long term, long-term care facilities, skilled nursing facilities, etc. can have access to these as well.”