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Mauians answering call to make PPE

Volunteers are making face masks, shields, COVID testing booths

Hospice Maui nurses Ashley Welch and Mitsue Okamura Eldredge wear face shields made by Maui Covid PPE and Joe Ritter.

Maui residents are stepping up in droves and answering the call to make personal protective equipment, like face masks and shields, for health care professionals on the front lines of the coronavirus battle and for the protection of others in the community.

This week, Maui Memorial Medical Center agreed to allow staff to wear homemade face masks, and Kaiser Permanente said it will accept personal protective equipment. But even before those moves occurred, The Maui News began receiving reports of Maui residents ramping up to volunteer to make PPE.

One group, Maui Covid PPE, has hundreds of volunteers making cloth masks, medical masks, disposable masks, face shields and testing booths for medical workers and the public, said Melissa Eisenhart, a leader of the consortium of volunteer groups.

The seed for Maui Covid PPE was planted about three weeks ago with news reports of coronavirus hot spots around the world in dire need of personal protective equipment, she said Monday. Those places were well connected geographically and still faced shortages.

The realization that Maui is isolated drove individuals to form groups to work to make sure that Maui had enough PPE.

Thousands of kits like these to make cloth face masks have been distributed by Maui Mask Makers, led by Melissa Eisenhart and Julie Ohashi.

“We were able to get together,” said Eisenhart, a massage therapist.

She said the primary players behind Maui Covid PPE are Joe Ritter, who is making face shields using 3D printers; Julie Ohashi and Eisenhart, cloth masks; Jennifer Oberg, medical masks that are near N95 quality; Robin Ferrier, disposable masks; and Dustin Heiner, testing booths.

Maui Mask Makers, led by Eisenhart and Ohashi, make cloth masks for the public and medical clinics. Their goal is to reduce the spread of germs and COVID-19 by “making sure everyone who has to be in public all day wears a mask,” Eisenhart said.

As of Monday, the group had made 500 masks in four days and distributed them to places, such as Feed My Sheep, Kaiser clinic, Maui Medical Group, Minit Medical and Maui Community Correctional Center, as well as to Molokai and Lanai, she said. They can make about 300 masks a day and have handed out 1,000 to 2,000 mask-making kits, which include fabric and patterns.

The Maui Mask Makers website at www.mauimaskmakers.com has written and instructional videos.

Keith Schaefer and Grant Ralls deliver a COVID-19 testing booth to Hana Health Clinic.

“There are hundreds sending expertise in every facet,” she said. “It’s amazing and inspiring how we are all coming together.

“I have friends worldwide in the medical field, and no one has heard of their community coming together like we have. I’m so grateful to be a small part of this.”

Oberg is making medical-grade masks for health care workers and police officers. Her group raised $21,000 for materials in two days and is seeking volunteers to help reach the goal of making 10,000 masks.

“It’s been amazing to see all the volunteers and donors that just stepped up to this project within a few days,” said Oberg, one of three team leaders in the project. “Our most important request to the community now is for volunteers.”

In addition to people who can sew, the group is looking for volunteers to help cut foam, wire, filters and other materials for the four-layer dual-filter masks. The work is being done in a safe environment at Seabury Hall, organizers said.

Ally Harney wears a face mask made for health care workers by the Betsy Talon Mask Group of West Maui.

Oberg got involved after her dressmaking and sewing business in Makawao closed last month because of the coronavirus.

“Usually, this time of year I’m busy with prom dresses and wedding gowns,” she said. “I was looking for a way to be useful to the community using my skill, so the masks were an obvious choice. But I was wanting to make a medical-grade mask, not fabric masks.”

She was connected with Russell Van Dyken, who was trying to make a medical-grade mask. He brought a mask and materials he obtained from Kaiser Permanente Maui to a meeting at her studio March 20, and the two created prototypes to be tested at the clinic over the next couple of days.

“The health care providers there liked the masks and asked us to make them,” Oberg said.

At the same time, friends wanted to donate and buy supplies. Kathy Baldwin started a GoFundMe drive March 21 that raised $21,000 in two days.

So far, more than 50 volunteers have helped make nearly 200 of the dual-filter masks, Oberg said Tuesday. The group made its first delivery of 50 masks to Kaiser Permanente Maui Lani Clinic on Monday. Another 50 masks were delivered to the Maui Police Department on Tuesday.

Oberg estimated the cost at $2 for each mask. Its four layers include a medical-grade surgical gown or sterile wrapping with a liquid barrier, two layers of filter and a paper rag for the fourth layer closest to the face. The mask also has a foam nose with wire to secure around the nose and two rows of elastic to go around the head.

Van Dyken came up with the design, Oberg oversees the manufacturing and Baldwin has coordinated requests for the masks in addition to fundraising.

People interested in volunteering can email volunteer coordinator Julie MacMillan at Halemahina1@gmail.com. Volunteers will be screened for health and travel history. The work is being done from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Seabury Hall for the next three weeks.

Oberg said the group is making a how-to video that will be posted on the Facebook page “Maui Face Mask Fund.”

After Ferrier, a registered nurse, saw a shortage of masks at Maui Memorial, she reached out to Maui Quilt Guild to sew fabric face masks for health care workers.

With the help of the community, Ferrier has been able to deliver about 250 masks every four to five days to the hospital, including one drop off earlier Thursday at the Maui Outpatient Clinic.

“The staff are super stoked,” Ferrier said Wednesday via phone. “I’m just one facet of a whole community making all sorts of stuff, not only for the hospitals, but for health care workers, grocery store people, anybody on the front line, the prison, the list is pretty long.”

The Quilt Guild, which has about 100 members, started making cotton masks with ties and elastic by following patterns and instructions suggested by Ferrier.

“They’ve been tremendous, they’ve been sewing away while they’re on lockdown,” she said. “I’ve been so overwhelmed with everything that’s been going on, I’ve been working on the front lines actually, so I’m trying to get it done.”

Between the entire hospital staff, which includes nurses, administration, aides, clerks and therapists, there are thousands of masks needed. Each person needs two to three masks, she said.

Masks also are being made for medical clinics, nursing homes and businesses throughout Maui County.

“If you wear one mask one day, you’re going to have to wash it,” she said. “So if everybody has two masks, and you have day shifts and night shifts, I would imagine we’re going to need another 4,000 to 5,000 masks easily, just to get them starting to feel comfortable showing up to work.”

The masks range in sizes and styles with some having pockets for filters. There are drop off locations in Lahaina, Kihei, Wailuku and Upcountry.

“I plan on doing this until we don’t have to anymore,” she said. “I want to saturate the front line. I’m going to work on getting other units taken care of. . . . We’ll see what the need is as the pandemic unfolds.”

Ferrier said she’s trying to set up more secure drop-off locations, like the Fire Department.

She will be launching her new project very soon that involves making 20,000 disposal masks to start off.

For those interested in donating masks, email mauimasks@gmail.com.

A group of tennis players, who have been competing and enjoying one another’s company at the Royal Lahaina Tennis Ranch for the past decade, also are sewing masks for medical workers, said Ally Harney of Launiupoko.

On the last day of play March 25 before the tennis ranch shut down to comply with the Mayor Michael Victorino’s stay-at-home order, the group of a dozen or so players decided to take up New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mantra: “Please contribute.”

“Let’s make masks,” said Betsy Talon, a seamstress.

She spoke to officials at Maui Memorial, who gave her directions on what was needed, and the Betsy Talon Mask Group on the west side was born.

The masks are intended to go over the ones used by health care workers to provide an extra, washable layer of protection.

“We are using bright cheerful fabric to make people smile,” said Harney on Monday. “It’s such a horrible situation, but let’s make them smile.”

The group has made about 200 so far. Talon put together bags with patterns and instructions on how to put them together. Initially, one mask took about a half-hour to make, but Harney now has it down to six minutes.

The group of “pretty tight locals” work in their own homes, per state and county orders.

“We miss each other” but the joint effort “keeps us tight,” she said.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com. Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com. Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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