Masks have become a critical commodity for health care workers around the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made them hard to come by as more are required.

In Cody, people are using their skills to help out. Local quilting groups are passing around patterns approved by Cody Regional Health to churn out new fabric masks, and Cody technology teachers are using school 3-D printers to design and produce plastic masks that, when fitted with an interior filter, may help keep medical workers safe.

“These kind gestures are impacting all of us,” said hospital spokesperson Annalea Avery about a host of donations. “Our community is one of the most giving and supporting communities that I have ever lived in.”

Using sewing skills to make a difference

Cody resident Jamie Jackson is in a quilting group. The women know each other through Friends and Co. Quilt Shop and occasionally go on retreats together.

What’s crucial right now is all can sew and have sewing machines and fabric on hand.

“So I started reaching out to everyone via my Facebook and we all said we were in to make masks,” Jackson said.

So she reached out to Avery for an approved design to move forward with.

“She has given us a pattern that is approved for them to utilize and that is what we are doing now,” Jackson said. “Friends and Co. at this time is donating fabric for us when we have someone who does not have a fabric stash and she is getting us elastic ordered beyond what we already have on hand.”

The women like being able to put their skills to work.

“All of us ladies are just happy to help our community in the time of need,” she said. “We have a lot of skills in this group. We say that we are the Rosies of the Sewing World at this point.

“The medical teams and other responders are on the front line of this and this is the least we can do to give back to our community with the mask shortage we are facing. Without our medical facility and staff, who else is going to help us?”

While the homemade and sewn masks do not offer the same protection as N95 medical masks, they are a useful backup. According to the CDC, fabric masks are a crisis response option when other supplies have been exhausted.

“Homemade masks could be used as a last resort, according to CDC,” said Kyle Paquin, CRH infection prevention specialist. “Ideally homemade masks should be used in combination with a face shield that covers the mask. Washable fabric masks were once a standard for hospitals, but may be used when other supplies have been exhausted. While it’s less than ideal, we want to do our best to protect our staff and patients during this pandemic.”

Collected masks will be immediately sent to be washed to be prepared for use. Any surplus masks will be distributed to other organizations in need.

Regardless of how the masks will be used, the ladies in the quilting group and all others who have stepped up individually to sew masks are doing their part.

“We don’t know how to run their equipment,” she said. “However, we know how to run a sewing machine.”

3-D printers put to work

The night of March 21, Tim Foley received an email from Jill Richardson, the sister of Cody grad and Billings neurosurgeon Dusty Richardson.

She gave an overview of what her brother was doing to help people make medical masks using 3-D printers.

Dr. Spencer Zaugg and Colton Zaugg also assisted in the mask design.

Foley, assistant superintendent at the Cody School District, made some calls, eventually connecting with CRH physician’s assistant Kelly Simone, former school board chair, who directed him to emergency department physician Dr. Andrew Hoene, who gave the go-ahead.

Foley then reached out to the school technology teachers, who were more than ready to help out.

“Within minutes people started responding and said, ‘If I can get my printer I can start on this,’” Foley said. “I worked with (Terry) Gardenhire to get people in and get access.

“It’s pretty cool to see how quickly these people jumped in. The hope would be the medical community can find a prototype that works.”

Foley said the teachers had a text stream going to troubleshoot issues. Before long they were sending prototypes to the hospital to be tested. Finished ones approved for use will be fitted with internal filters.

“It’s kind of amazing,” he said. “With 3-D printers, kids have been making neat little things, but now they’re being used to actually make masks that could protect our health care providers.

“Talk about a real-life example of using this in a vary meaningful way.”

Cody Middle School assistant principal Patrick Couture, now heading up the project, said teachers have been able to send out a variety of masks and have been receiving feedback to make them better.

“An example I used in describing this, is a bunch of citizens are trying to ‘Apollo 13’ a problem in a record amount of time,” Couture said. “We are hopeful we can find a design that works for our medical professionals and are hoping we can get it soon, as our medical staff, which are the true superheroes of this crisis, need every bit of protection they can get.”

He said in the meantime anyone with extra N95 masks should donate them to the hospital. He’s hoping that before long teachers will have a design secure enough to deploy, and then the printers will be ready.

“If and when our design is finalized we would then be able to produce approximately 100 masks within a week,” he said. “Again, we can’t thank the medical staff here in Cody enough for all their herculean efforts and their willingness to work with us in this endeavour.”

Medical officials are rooting for them.

“We are very encouraged by the 3-D printing of plastic masks with interchangeable snap-in filters that are being printed by the Cody School District, Powell Valley Healthcare and others,” said Dr. Aaron Billin ,Park County Public Health officer.

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