With pink and purple fabric laid out on a workstation in her basement, Egg Harbor Township resident RoseAnne DeSantes is threading her sewing machine for a good cause.
The 69-year-old former nurse is sewing masks to donate to health care workers during a shortage, as doctors and nurses across the nation work to contain the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Even if it’s in a small way, I want to help with this shortage because I was a nurse, and I know how it feels not to have something that you need,” she said.
Desantes practiced as a nurse for 32 years until retiring in 1998. Since working in hospitals in New York and New Jersey and in area nursing homes, she worked as a casino dealer and supervisor in Atlantic City and now works for a beauty supply line.
“I never went through a crisis like this before, but sometimes you’d run out of something you’d need in the hospital and it was terrible,” she said.
Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday, March 23, in his daily COVID-19 briefing that he pleaded to President Donald Trump for more personal protective equipment in a one-on-one phone call that day.
He said Monday that the state is “turning over literally every stone,” but still needs more federal assistance.
According to state Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Chris Neuwirth, new supplies from the federal Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s largest supply of medical supplies for public health emergencies, and corporate and community donations have eased the burden. But, despite this effort, there are some delays in the supply chain.
Homemade masks are not as effective as the medical-grade N95 masks, but DeSantes hopes they can still be used as a possible last resort for health care professionals who may have to reuse a medical mask.
According to the Center for Disease control and Prevention’s website, health care professionals might use homemade masks such as bandanas or scarves for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered official PPE, since their capability to protect health care professionals is unknown.
Sitting at her sewing machine, Desantes constructs her mask using 100% cotton fabric that she has left over from her quilting projects and elastic.
She also sews her masks with a pocket in which she inserts filter material typically found in central heating systems.
Desantes says for this part vacuum cleaner bags or even coffee filters can work to add an extra layer of protection.
“I am not a professional seamstress,” she said “Basically, if you can sew on a button or sew up a hem, you can do these.”
DeSantes said she has made about 50-80 masks since starting last week, about 20 of which she said she donated to a health worker in Michigan. She does not charge anyone for her masks and buys all supplies herself.
“I’m not making these masks for the general public because you’re not supposed to be near other people,” she said. “I’m making them for people who are in hospitals or facilities with patients that don’t have them, that have nothing.”
DeSatnes encourages people who already have medical-grade N95 masks or other protective gear to donate those as well.
“If they have masks, if they have gloves, if they have anything like that laying around the house, they should, you know, find out if medical facilities need them,” DeSantes said.
Murphy set up a donation website for this purpose. Potential PPE suppliers can email PPEdonations@njsp.org
Still, DeSantes and sewers across the state and country are working to provide their own homemade form of relief for health care workers.
“Many, many people are making them, but if I could organize a group we could put out, let’s say, a couple of hundreds instead of 25,” she said.
DeSantes is hoping she can unify a network of sewers via social media, secure more materials and find more health care providers she can help by donating her homemade masks.
“People want to help,” said state Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli in an email. “And some of the ways they feel like they’re helping is to be able to, if they can’t donate their time, donate their goods. ... So, if that’s going on, I would assume it’s because of a community call to action, ‘How can we help?’ And I think we’re going to see more and more of that, and I think it will be very effective in bringing our communities together during a time when we can’t see people face-to-face.”