By Anna Jauhola
Distance learning has turned into volunteerism for one Kittson Central junior.
Rylee Bergeron finished her quilt top for Family and Consumer Science class last week and quickly turned to sewing reusable masks from her leftover material.
“I saw there was a need for them and just wanted to help out any way I could,” Bergeron said. “My mom also kind of suggested it.”
Bergeron was one of a few FACS students who took home a school sewing machine to continue learning while school is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She found a pattern and video tutorial on YouTube, which includes using elastic. When she’s completed her masks, Bergeron will donate them to Kittson Healthcare in Hallock. She hopes it will help the facility ration the surgical masks they do have for necessary use.
Cindy Urbaniak, public health director and nursing home administrator, said they have received numerous donations but still need more masks.
The facility needs fabric masks to save the surgical masks for when the facility does deal with a positive or suspected case of COVID-19, she said. Personal protective equipment, called PPE, is getting difficult to procure, so these cloth masks are going to help prevent spread within the facility and out in the community.
“Our first priority is getting these homemade masks to the nursing home staff. Then after that, we’d include housekeeping, dietary and assisted living,” Urbaniak said. “It’s going to be kind of a rollout process. We’re probably not going to get all the masks I need for everybody in the facility at one time, but at least I’m hoping to get enough to start for the nursing home staff.”
Laundry employees are on duty at Kittson Healthcare Monday through Thursday to handle washing cloth masks. Urbaniak estimates 300 masks are needed to cover the staff between Friday and Monday until the laundry crew is back on duty at noon.
The masks will help with source control, meaning keeping people’s germs inside the masks, thus protecting those around them. Guidance from the Centers of Disease Control states masks should “fit snugly but comfortable against the side of the face” and “be secured with ties or ear loops,” plus “include multiple layers of fabric.” The fabric should be tightly woven, preferably cotton or a cotton blend, Urbaniak said. Masks should be worn for only one day and then washed in hot water, and dried on a hot setting.
The CDC website has a face-covering page with information on how to wear a cloth mask as well as tutorials on how to make masks. Urbaniak said people can wear masks in public if that makes them more comfortable. But at-risk individuals should wear a mask if they must go out in public. And everyone should continue diligent hand washing, especially before and after going on essential errands to the grocery store, gas station or other public places.
Bergeron has also sewn masks for her family, specifically her dad, Travis, who travels to Fargo, N.D., once a week for work.
“We’re a little worried, but not too bad,” she said.
Bergeron hopes to continue sewing after the pandemic is over and after high school. She said the skill has taught her to slow down, whether she works on a project or in everyday life.
“Sometimes I like to just get things done and it doesn’t always work,” she said with a laugh.
Lancaster student Brad Cummins, 8, is helping his mom, Pauline, make cloth masks by cutting fabric and elastic. They donated masks recently to the Hallock ambulance crew.
“I just wanted to help the community so this coronavirus stuff can get taken care of,” Brad said.
Matthew Cummins, Brad’s dad, said he and Pauline stocked up on fabric before the virus really took hold throughout Minnesota. Pauline has been making masks and donating to various facilities, such as both clinics in Hallock and Karlstad, Kittson Healthcare hospital, EMTs and fire departments, including those in Oslo where Matthew’s sister is on both crews.
“She’s probably done a couple hundred masks for volunteers,” Matthew said.
Pauline has also been sewing masks for people who ask for her help, but she only has so much time each day to be at her sewing machine.
Sewers around the county have taken to their machines and are busy working on masks.
Urbaniak knows the facility will not have all the masks they ask for immediately, but hope to have enough to cover all staff over the next few weeks.
“We are so appreciative of everyone who has dropped off masks for us,” she said.
There are still no positive cases of COVID-19 in Kittson County, she added. Kittson Healthcare is still only testing patients they have screened for the disease. However, they are not screening all people unless they fall into the criteria for testing.
“Testing supplies are still not adequate to test the entire population,” Urbaniak said.
Anyone who wants to donate masks to Kittson Healthcare can drop them off at the hospital front desk Monday through Friday between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. If you only able to drop off over a weekend, Urbaniak said to call the facility ahead of time at 218-843-3612 or ring the doorbell at the front door of the hospital.
Guidance from Centers for Disease Control and how to make cloth masks can be found here: