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Kalamazoo County Needs DIY Face Masks

Frank Augstein
AP Photo

People can feel helpless in the face of something like the coronavirus pandemic. But Kalamazoo County officials say there is something residents can do to help.

The county is asking anyone who has a sewing machine and the materials to start making face masks. Kalamazoo County Commission Vice-Chairwoman Tracy Hall says there is a shortage of masks for health care workers that could get worse over the next several weeks.

"I don't think any levels of government - federal, state, or local - were prepared in any kind of way. When we get through this, there's going to be a lot of lessons learned."

She says the county's health department got a pattern for masks that's approved by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It's available on the county's website. After the do-it-yourself masks have been sewn, Hall says they're easy to drop off.

"We have drop off Monday through Friday from 9 to 4 at our awesome Health and Community Services Department, at 311 East Alcott Street. The county will launder them when they're dropped off."

Hall says she's impressed by the dedication of those behind the project.

"There's a group of individuals that I've seen on Facebook. There are over a hundred people who are working on making face masks. Kalamazoo County and our community is just amazing. Simply amazing!"

The Facebook group is called the Southwest Michigan Med Mask Project. Hall says the masks will be given to local healthcare facilities as well as people who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19.

Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo says it is accepting public donations of personal protective equipment items like masks and gowns. It will have five drop off sites beginning Monday, March 23. The hospital will also accept hand-sewn masks.

According to the Kalamazoo County news release, "Homemade masks are not considered personal protective equipment (PPE), since their capability to protect the health care provider is unknown. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front and sides of the face."

There's also a call for blood donors in the Kalamazoo area. Blood collection centers have reported a sharp drop in donations since the pandemic arrived in Michigan.

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