As the novel coronavirus COVID-19 spreads, the demand for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for medical professionals and first responders is increasing.

“There is a critical shortage of PPE for our healthcare workers and first responders,” Bob Jackson, Grant County Emergency Management Agency director, said.

Aware of the shortage of PPE, Grant County community members have moved to action.

Gas City resident and former nurse Tami Corbin began sewing masks at her home on Sunday and said she would continue as long as there is a need.

“My heart was hurting for all of the healthcare professionals that I’m sure are working under some extreme situations where they didn’t have the proper equipment,” Corbin said. “We thought that might be something we could do in a time of crisis to help others, in at least a small way.”

Corbin, her daughter and her 8-year-old granddaughter have made more than 60 masks in three days so far.

Corbin said she posted on Facebook to ask her friends if they knew where there was a need in Grant County and was told to send them to Trans Care Ambulance.

“I said I will just keep sewing, and wherever the need is, let them go there,” Corbin said.

According to Corbin, the homemade cloth masks are not nearly as efficient as the N95 respirator masks that medical professionals should be using, but in a time of crisis, these masks are better than nothing.

“This is a last resort. If you don’t have access to (PPE), you can use this,” Corbin said. “I hope they don’t have to use these masks and that they have the proper equipment to protect themselves from the virus.”

While being stuck in her home, Corbin said she has felt helpless.

“What can you do?” Corbin said. “This is our little bit of trying to make a difference during the crisis.”

Corbin said she is offering more than physical protection for medical professionals.

“As I’ve been sewing these, I’ve been praying for God to protect all of our healthcare workers and those people that are at risk,” Corbin said. “I pray while I make the masks that God will protect those that are in harm’s way.”

Marion resident Rachel Terry began making masks on Saturday for her best friend, who works as a nurse manager for a hospice in Florida.

“On Friday, she found out she could not order through her supplier any more masks for her nurses. They are in and out of about 180 houses a day,” Terry said. “When she has all that she needs, I will find somewhere else to donate them.”

Terry and her 9-year-old daughter have sent 36 masks to Florida so far.

Terry said she uses two layers of tightly woven cotton to make the masks.

“It’s not anywhere near the kind of protection they need, but it’s better than nothing,” Terry said. “I don’t want her to go out and be exposed and bring it home to her kids. Anything I can do to make her safer and make the nurses she works with safer, I am absolutely glad to do it.”

Pat Mitchell, the owner of Ride & Leather in Marion, and his team are using their space downtown to make masks for emergency responders.

“We got concerned when we started hearing about the lack of masks availability,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s team made 40 masks Monday and another 60 on Tuesday, using polyester dust fabric typically used on furniture.

“It’s identical to some of the components in the N95 mask,” Mitchell said. “It’s breathable and highly water-resistant.”

Mitchell posted a video on Facebook showing how to make a mask using fabric and a food sealer many people have in their homes.

“More people have those food sealers than sewing machines,” Mitchell said.

According to Marion General Hospital (MGH) representative Sarah Evans, Indiana Wesleyan University also donated PPE to MGH, including gowns and masks.

Jackson said the EMA appreciates the action from the community.

“I think that will help us get through, hopefully supplies are coming. It will certainly help us bridge the gap,” Jackson said. “One of the things Grant County does best is certainly when the chips are down, we all pull together and it’s much appreciated.”

For more information on how to help with the PPE shortage, email asimmons@grantcounty.net.

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