Mask picture

An impending shortage of personal protective equipment, like masks, means health care providers are following CDC and World Health Organization guidelines about when to use the gear during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pictured mask was not wasted — it was used during a reporter's doctor's visit the week of March 16, 2020.

CADILLAC — Crafters are aiming to help defeat COVID-19.

An expected shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 has crafty folks scrambling to gather the supplies they need to sew and donate surgical masks.

“I’ve had quite a few people coming in and getting stuff to make them," said Misty Barnett, owner of Get Crafty in Evart.

Northern Hearth Quilting and Sewing Center ordered supplies so customers can sew surgical masks but has put the plans on pause.

That's because there's one problem with the idea of a home-sewn fabric mask — we don't know if they'll work.

“I would hold off still,” said Dr. Alicia Elmore, a family practice physician who works in Cadillac. “We really don’t know that a piece of cloth fiber will filter out the microscopic droplets."

Julie Dunkel, owner of Northern Hearth, said she was looking for better information, too.

“I want to make sure that what we can sew together will be sufficient for the needs of the hospital," Dunkel said.

But sewists might not have long to wait.

Dr. Elmore said on Monday afternoon that she expected the CDC would have more guidance on the effectiveness of cloth masks and improvised personal protective equipment within a week and a half.

Already, however, some hospitals have announced they will accept the homemade masks, Munson Healthcare and McLaren among them.

McLaren Northern Michigan Foundation posted their requirements on Facebook. The foundation said homemade masks can be made from cotton or a cotton blend, with ties preferred over elastic because then the masks can be laundered multiple times (donated masks will be commercially laundered before use). 

Most importantly — don't sew a mask if you're sick.

The foundation is referring sewists to makevictorymasks.org for a pattern.

People who want to donate supplies to hospitals are being instructed to go to drop-off centers; McLaren Northern Michigan asks that you call 231-487-3500 to schedule a drop-off time and location. Munson Healthcare is using Goodwill in Traverse City as a drop-off location; the Cadillac News is working to learn if there is a Cadillac-area donation plan.

You could sew them just for fun, of course.

Many people are looking for sewing projects, Dunkel and Barnett said.

People can get depressed when they're locked in the house, after all.

"A lot of these women need projects to do," Dunkel said — something besides cleaning and watching "depression T.V."

"People gotta have something to do to get them through the next three weeks," said Barnett, who planned to keep her store, Get Crafty in Evart, open later Monday evening than usual to accommodate customers who are trying to purchase supplies before the midnight shut-down.

For Northern Hearth Quilting and Sewing Center in Cadillac, its website and online store may be its saving grace.

Dunkel said she wrote an email to customers asking them to help her keep her store in business during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I had the best week I’ve had online last week since I went online,” Dunkel said.

UPDATE: this story has been updated to reflect that some hospitals are now accepting the masks and provides a link to a mask pattern.