Plea for medical face masks elicits enthusiastic local response

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home Rotary Club and Senior Center members are among local residents who are sewing masks and donating them to the hospitals.

For the Rotary Club, Larry Horton has been meeting volunteers at Sweet Home High School during its lunch distribution to students to trade mask construction materials for completed masks, which may feature everything from wild color schemes to movie “Minions.”

The Rotary got started with a donation of 148 yards of elastic, Horton said Thursday, March 26.

“Elastic seems to be the shortage. We’ve been using that, but we ran out of that. I bought 20 yards in Springfield. That’s being used today.”

The 20 yards of elastic is enough for at least 150 masks, Horton said. He said the Rotary Club was hoping to produce about 1,000 masks total.

“What started it all was an email from Samaritan (Health Services) Saturday,” Horton said. “They needed masks.

Samaritan Health Services put out a request for facemasks and other items on March 19 to the communities it serves as part of a plea for donations of personal protective equipment as area health care facilities grapple with an international supply-chain shortage as a result of COVID-19 response.

Instantly, Samaritan received phone calls, emails and responses via social media from people eager to help.

“The response has been remarkable,” said Taylor Gilmour, assistant vice president of Samaritan Foundations.

“It is clear that we are surrounded by a caring community who wants to ensure the health and safety of health care professionals and patients and for that we are thankful. We have received donations from individuals and local businesses, including Hewlett Packard and the Lowe’s and Target distribution centers.”

Samaritan’s original request was for facemasks of all kinds, including but not limited to N95 masks, disposable gowns and gloves, eye protection, swabs and viral transport tubes, and 70-percent or greater isopropyl alcohol. After four donation drop-off sessions, eight pallets of PPE items were collected and the need for gloves has been fully met.

“While we received donations of commercially produced facemasks, we also received a lot of homemade masks,” Gilmour said.

Not only is Samaritan using the masks, Horton said, Linn Shuttle drivers and others who must work around the public are.

Directions for making the masks are available at

All of the Linn County Rotary clubs are doing the same thing,” Horton said. “It’s a great way to help.”

Others who may wish to make and donate masks or donate supplies to make masks may drop them off at the School District’s meal sites at Foster School and at the SHHS loading dock on the northwest corner of the school. The meal sites operate from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on weekdays.

Needed supplies include elastic and 9-by-12-inch sheets of cotton cloth.

“There’s been a need for the masks in large quantities, probably in the next two to three weeks,” Horton said. ”

The masks keep droplets from getting in, Horton said.

Kevin McLauglin, a Rotary member and volunteer caregiver, said he provides transportation to cancer patients, “so I”ve been using one when I’m driving.”

Gina Riley, a recent retiree, said she and some other seamstresses from around the county have banded together to make 700 masks –thus far – that have been distributed to Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, urgent care facilities, Wiley Creek Community, and Timberview Nursing Home. They are now working on more for the Oregon Veterans Home and the county juvenile detention center, she said.

“I’m very proud of our little group,” Riley said. “We have seamstresses from all over the county helping.”

She said anyone needing a mask should visit the Linn County Mask Makers Facebook page.

While the cloth masks are not as useful to medical staff working with COVID-19 patients, they can be for patients arriving at hospitals, said May Hindmarsh, a Sweet Home doctor working for Oregon Medical Group in Eugene.

While at work, she said, doctors are using the N95 masks. They’ll put the cloth masks over the top of their N95 masks to help protect and prolong the usefulness of the N95s.

The cloth masks could help with droplets that contain virus particles, which is the primary way for the virus to transmit through the air, said Tim Hindmarsh, May’s husband and also a doctor with Oregon Medical Group. With a symptomatic person wearing a mask, the person isn’t “spraying droplets” out at others.

In settings where facemasks are not available, the CDC does allow for health care professionals to use homemade masks for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort, according to a Samaritan press release.

Samaritan’s strategy is to use standard PPE first as it offers the best protection for health care professionals, especially those treating patients with COVID-19. Homemade masks will be used if standard PPE supplies are depleted or will be used in care settings not requiring as stringent PPE use to free up available supplies in COVID-19 treatment areas.

The degree to which the virus can aerosolize is not confirmed, Tim Hindmarsh said.

The cloth masks are not meant to protect a person from the virus but rather others from that person, May Hindmarsh said.

“There is a place for it, and it’s really for symptomatic patients,” Tim Hindmarsh said. “The (N95s) need to go to doctors.”

While we received donations of commercially-produced facemasks, we also received a lot of homemade masks,” Gilmour said. “The craft of sewing is alive and strong in Benton, Linn and Lincoln counties.”