Residents craft face masks in response to shortage

Sometimes problems require creative solutions.

In the midst of a shortage of masks, people across Whidbey are working hard to provide replacements for health care professionals and for the most at-risk populations in the community.

Kymy Johnson and Jessica Fisher, both having a lifelong passion for sewing, started a Facebook group to share information about patterns to make masks and where to drop off finished products.

The Facebook group is called Whidbey Personal Protective DIYers and has delivered over 400 sewn masks to assisted living homes, health care facilities and to caregivers providing in-home care.

“A lot of people want to help but they don’t know where there’s need,” Johnson said.

She and the others spend time figuring out which places are in need of mask donations, and deliver all donations.

A Langley resident, Johnson monitors drop offs for Coupeville at 404 South Main St. and Fisher monitors them in her city, Oak Harbor. A third administrator for the Facebook group covers South Whidbey with a drop off location in Clinton near Good Cheer Two and Platinum Fitness Center at Ken’s Korner.

Johnson has had ample experience with sewing for charity, helping to organize smock designs for babies receiving hospital care.

Working with Central Whidbey Fire and Rescue, she helped develop the patterns for a sewn mask to be worn over a N-95 mask, prolonging its use.

Patterns are available not only on the Facebook page, but also on her website http://www.eymm.com/masks/ and at drop-off locations. Part of the challenge, she acknowledged, is that people who want to help are not always Facebook users.

Johnson has even involved her twin 12-year-old daughters in the sewing process since the kids are home from school.

“I have plenty of fabric, and plenty of teenagers at home,” she said with a laugh.

Her fellow group organizer Fisher has her own business selling hooded bath towels for children, and has also had years of sewing experience.

“I have been sewing since I was about five years old,” Fisher said. “I remember sewing Barbie clothes on my mom’s old sewing machine when I was eight.”

She has made around 200 masks as part of the sewing group’s efforts.

Fabric can also be donated at drop off locations, which are listed in detail on the group’s Facebook page.

Besides cloth masks, several robotics team members are also hoping to provide reusable alternatives to single-use masks.

Atlantis STEAM, a South Whidbey community robotics group, is diving into 3D printing masks and assembling face shields from a range of materials.

The designs for the personal protective equipment have been tested by health care professionals.

Compared with masks, face shields have the advantage of providing coverage for the whole face. They are constructed with foam, industrial two-sided tape, waterproof vinyl and elastic.

The group, many of them kids, have been working diligently to complete 100 face shields, which will be split between WhidbeyHealth and Careage of Whidbey.

Director Ashley Bystrom (McConnaughey) said the kids have donated money they had originally raised to build robots towards the cause, especially in buying materials for the equipment.

“They are absolutely amazing kids that are stepping up,” Bystrom McConnaughey said.

Face masks take a little longer to build, since 3D printing is involved. The face piece takes about three hours to print. A single-use filter, made out of a surgical mask, will be inserted into the filter frame of the mask.

When the filter is inserted, the edges of the mask have a weatherproof seal, Bystrom McConnaughey explained.

Along the printed piece is a gasket which creates an airtight seal against the skin, allowing no respiration except through the filter.

In lieu of an elastic band, shoelaces, which can be thrown away while the reusable mask is being sanitized, are attached.

She estimates there have already been about 30 masks printed, but is working with people from the Whidbey area and beyond who have 3D printers to streamline the process.

“No one is making anything here on the island that has not been specifically requested by the institution,” Bystrom McConnaughey said.

She added, “We are really happy to be able to respond.”

Atlantis STEAM is also working with Whidbey Island Wildcats, the robotics team for the Oak Harbor School District.

Mentors for the North Whidbey team said they are printing a new set of masks this week, and are considering delivering their masks to Whidbey grocery store workers so they can have protection too.