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Community Rallying to Make Masks for Workers on the Front Lines

This article and photo first appeared in the Vail Daily on April 2, 2020.

While most materials at home can’t perfectly emulate the official N95 masks that frontline health care employees are using, additional masks are serving to prolong the life of the N95 masks.

Vail Health has set up three internal sewing stations across the valley for its employees from a variety of departments to make masks, being distributed to employees at Vail Health and Colorado Mountain Medical as well as Eagle County Paramedic Services and other EMS services.

“This program is important because it provides additional PPE resources and also helps provide hours to other employees who have seen an impact because of COVID-19,” said Dan Pennington, Vail Health Foundation president and chief philanthropy officer, who is overseeing the mask-making program, in a news release. “These masks are serving to prolong the life of the N95 masks frontline employees are wearing. They are intended to be worn over the N95 masks and then disposed of when soiled.”

Community members are rallying to help provide masks for Vail Health, which are then distributed to other services. On Facebook, the Eagle County Sewing for Health Workers group started on March 21. As of the end of the month, it has over 70 members taking direction from Vail Health.

Community members interested in sewing 100% cotton masks can visit for pattern instructions. Masks made by the community can be dropped off in the Vail Health PPE donation bins and will be distributed to other frontline businesses, such as grocery stores, banks, gas stations, etc., throughout the valley.

“For official medical use, there are specific materials that must be used, which is why we have focused our internal efforts on mask-making for medical use. We are grateful for the community’s interest in making masks and encourage them to drop off their homemade masks at our donation bins so the material can be cleaned and distributed to local businesses that are currently serving our community,” Pennington said.

Vail Health has also partnered with Melanzana in Leadville to help increase our production. This partnership allows Vail Health to offer masks to more staff and EMS in the valley.

‘I’ve never made a mask’

Amy Reyes, of Eagle, is a member of the Eagle County Sewing for Health Workers group on Facebook. She is a volunteer for Vail Health so reached out quickly about offering help. She’s making masks at home with her mother out of what they have available.

“We always hold on to those scrap fabrics because you never know when you might need them,” she said. “And now we need them and can use them.”

Elastic is proving to be a difficult item to find for the straps. The suggested masks feature a sewn pouch inside for a filter to be placed, and removed, making it washable.

“I have made aprons, curtains, pillows and a couple dresses in my life,” Reyes said, “but I’ve never made a mask, so that’s a new one. But the basic skills are the same.”

Reyes said each member of the Facebook group is working at their own pace. And if there’s people in the valley who don’t sew but want to help, there’s an opportunity.

“If you aren’t a sewer but have access to materials you would be willing to donate, there’s an opportunity to just donate materials. That’s a way to help,” she said.

Join the group on Facebook to share best practices, tips and support at Eagle County Sewing for Health Workers.

Masks, with style

Stephanie Fleck, of Avon, has some extra time on her hands as the owner of Party Girl Events, working as a wedding and event planner. Many events have been canceled or postponed, but clients are still booking for the summer.

Fleck made her own mask, using stylish designs and air conditioning filters. Her sister works in a Philadelphia hospital.

“I asked some of my friends who are nurses in Vail who said they were good, but then I was talking to my sister in Philly who said they’re using scarves because they need all of the equipment for the COVID-19 floors, so her floor didn’t have any legitimate materials.”

Fleck sent 50 masks to her sister and her coworkers earlier in March.

“I use the cutest materials,” she said.

Avon resident Stephanie Fleck reached out to local hospitals before sending 50 masks to her sister, who works in a hospital in Philadelphia in need of masks.

Fleck is now selling masks to friends and community members on Facebook for $5, as she’s putting financial resources into making the masks and just wants to cover costs, she said. Since posting on Facebook, she received over a dozen requests within the first day.

The masks feature the pouch so the filter can come out and the mask can be washed.

“These aren’t N95s, obviously, I’m making them out of air conditioning filters and fabric, but when I wear mine to the store, I feel so much safer, and they look cute,” she said.

CDC information on masks

On the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention website, officials address frequently asked questions, including those about respirator masks.

“The role of facemasks is for patient source control, to prevent contamination of the surrounding area when a person coughs or sneezes.  Patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 should wear a facemask until they are isolated in a hospital or at home. The patient does not need to wear a facemask while isolated,” the website reads.

While most materials at home can’t perfectly emulate the official N95 masks that frontline health care employees are using, additional masks are serving to prolong the life of the N95 masks.

For more information, visit

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