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The Mask Brigade

A group of Seattle women mount an offensive to help alleviate lack of healthcare protective gear

Unused medical mask stored in an emergency kit for two years.

Guess what happens when you combine the power of social media with the power of a handful of regular citizens who just want to help.

You cobble together donations of more than 1,500 medical masks – in a matter of days.

In the now weeks-long battle with the Novel Coronavirus, medical and health care facilities of all kinds are now running short of vital Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) – masks and other personal protective equipment like face shields, gloves, goggles and glasses, gowns, head covers and shoe covers.

Earlier this week a group of friends were discussing the shortage by text messaging and got mad.

Then they decided to do something about it.

“Well, I just had seen a Facebook note from ICU nurse who said, ‘Hey, know we don’t have any masks. Lemme know if you can help out,’” said Lee Harper, retired executive director of the Phinney Neighborhood Association.

Leah Friberg’s daughter, Tuesday, picks up mask donations Thursday, March 19.

Lee said she shared the post with her friends, marketing consultant Leah Friberg and Cricket Farr, Full Life Care’s Housing Stabilization and Supports Director.

“And Cricket said, ‘I’m going to get some others into this,” Lee said.

Soon enough, Jenny Gaus, a storm water engineer with the City of Kirkland; and Julianne Dalcanton, chair of the University of Washington’s astronomy department; and Swedish Hospital Internist Dr. Britt Anderson got involved and the group started texting about the situation.

A donation drop-off point in Fremont.

That was on Tuesday. Then they put out the call.

“Hey Seattle” Julianne tweeted on March 17, “My local health care folks are reporting N-95 mask shortages in hospitals. We are starting a drive to collect these to deliver to hospitals. Do you have any from painting projects or blocking smoke? Please RT https://t.co/pLhTLaXn6E?amp=1.”

“We just started messaging friends, associates,” Julianne said. “Twitter followers, friends who also have followers. I just posted and asked them to re-post. People have connections.”

The need is real and not just in Seattle. Nationwide, health care workers are reporting serious shortages of masks and other protective equipment. A New York Times story this Thursday headlined ‘At War With No Ammo,’ physicians and nurses across the country openly complained that the lack of protective gear was hindering their work and putting themselves at risk.

Unused N-95 masks remain in their original packaging

Answers to Julianne’s tweet started coming back. People had small stashes – in closets, garages, tucked in emergency kits or spare drawers. They would be glad to donate.

“It just sort of ballooned – in a good way,” Julianne said. “It’s still a pretty shoe-string operation. But we’re getting them from all over the city.”

Then another plea needed to go out, to find able-bodied volunteers willing to pick up donations and deliver. Again, within hours, more people responded, willing to take on that task.

That was Wednesday.

Julianne built spreadsheets on Google to track donations and maps to pinpoint distribution while Jenny started canvasing medical centers for their needs. Lee’s home became one of the group’s drop-off locations (“I found a couple more boxes on my porch this morning,” she said.) while Leah enlisted as one of the distribution cohort. And Britt provided valuable guidance from the medial perspective.

By Thursday, Julianne said their efforts resulted in some 1,500 masks donated from more than 100 people. And it hasn’t shown signs of stopping.

“It’s overwhelming,” Lee said. “This is like six women who say, ‘OK we want to do something.’ I don’t think we thought it’d be this.”

And now, Julianne says she’s communicating with a man in the San Francisco Bay area who heard about their

Beth Hartman, Support Services at Columbia Lutheran Home, happily receives a donation of masks on March 19. The skilled nursing facility for seniors says they have been told PPE supplies will be hard to come by until summer.

project and wants to replicate the effort there.

“It’s like people feel like they have to do something,” Lee said, “and they said – ‘Let’s try this.’”

Want to help? You can message Julianne: @dalcantonJD. Or, visit https://sites.google.com/view/seattle-mask-donations/home.

 

 

Photos provided by Leah Friberg

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