TRAVERSE CITY — Masks are an important safety measure, whether they’re N-95 respirators or homemade cloth ones.

Meg Franklin-Judd knows the importance of both kinds of masks and the seriousness of airborne pathogens. She and her husband, Jason Judd, began really watching the coronavirus pandemic and its movements in January.

Judd is a nurse at Munson Medical Center. He works in B-2, an inpatient unit with patients whose acuity is between ICU and general medical.

“We understood this was going to hit us,” Franklin-Judd said. “It was a matter of when, not if.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week updated recommendations and advised people to wear cloth face coverings in “public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” such as grocery stores and pharmacies.

Studies are showing that many people who are infected with coronavirus are asymptomatic and that those who do develop symptoms can spread the disease before symptoms appear, according to the CDC. Masks are not a replacement for social distancing — keeping 6 feet apart from others — but is an additional measure of protection, the CDC reports.

“The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators,” the CDC website reads. “Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders.”

Franklin-Judd said she has made about 25 masks in the past two weeks using any kind of tightly-woven fabric she happened to have.

Knowledge of angles and tension comes from her job as a hairdresser, while Judd’s work in health care means he knows from experience where stress points are, Franklin-Judd said. She’d show Judd her work and he’d make suggestions.

Some of the masks were donated to homeless shelters like Safe Harbor, but people also have reached out directly for masks, she said. Friends with children suffering from immune disorders or other conditions that put them at a high risk were first on the list, though, Franklin-Judd said.

“Necessity,” Franklin-Judd said when asked what prompted her sewing. “Just understanding how quickly this spreads.”

Seamstresses for Safety

More than 1,600 people across the region have consolidated their mask-making efforts through a Facebook group called Seamstresses for Safety and together have made more than 11,000 masks thus far, group administrator Erin Lord said Tuesday.

Not all members sew, she said.

The group was established March 20 by Monica Malbouef and Lord with the intention of making masks for health care workers, according to the description posted on Facebook.

The goal recently shifted to helping county emergency managers cover essential workers in each community.

Dr. Joel Streh, a critical care doctor at Munson Medical Center, was the one who came up with the idea, Lord said.

“He is a friend of mine, so he asked what my thoughts were on it,” she said. “I was like, ‘Yep. Let’s do it.’”

Munson Healthcare has received about 1,000 hand-sewn masks from the community, according to Munson spokesperson Dale Killingbeck.

All Munson Healthcare clinical staff are wearing medical-grade personal protective masks, Killingbeck said. Non-clinical employees, like food and nutrition staff, are allowed to make their own mask or use those donated by the community, he said.

Inpatients who don’t have COVID-19, home-health patients and outpatients also are provided with donated masks, Killingbeck said.

“I’m completely OK with that. I prefer them using medical grade (masks),” Lord said. “But we still want to make sure, if they do run out, they have an option and it isn’t using a bandanna.”

Munson’s stance altered Seamstresses for Safety’s “landing point,” Malbouef said. Now, in addition to health care facilities, they’re now working on partnering with counties to consolidate drop-off points for the masks, she said. Distribution will be left to the departments.

“We didn’t want to stop our girls from sewing if there was a need,” Malbouef said. “It’s just a different avenue.”

“We understood this was going to hit us. It was a matter of when, not if.” Meg Franklin-Judd