The urge to help in times of crisis is strong, and as the word went out that healthcare workers were facing shortages of personal protective equipment such as face masks, eye shields, gloves, and gowns, many people on the East End sprang into action.
Nancy Nano, the owner of Nancy’s Tailoring and Alterations in Noyac, was one of them. Late last week, Ms. Nano and her assistant, Eloisa Criollo, were busy sewing some of the 50 cotton face masks they planned to donate to workers at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital — this despite the hospital’s insistence that it did not need such donations.
“We don’t want people spending their efforts and resources unnecessarily by sewing masks at this time,” said hospital spokeswoman Barbara Jo Howard in an email. Rumors that the hospital’s staff was wearing handmade masks was simply not true, she said. “Our nurses are wearing appropriate PPE per current CDC guidelines.”
But Ms. Nano, like several others involved in the effort, said she had been asked by a hospital employee to donate the masks and told that workers were wearing them over their hospital-supplied masks to prolong the life of the protective equipment.
Ms. Nano, who was making masks out of cotton poplin fabric, said she had also made another 150 to 200 for local businesses.
“I just wanted to help,” she said, adding that the biggest problem for now has been a shortage of quarter-inch wide elastic for the straps.
“It’s my understanding they are running out of the N95 masks,” said Debra Quimby of Sagaponack, referring to the specialized face masks that provide a tighter seal and better filtration than standard surgical masks. “They are looking for ways to stretch their life.”
Ms. Quimby and her daughters, Kate, who is home from Texas Christian University, and Anne, a sophomore at East Hampton High School, have also been churning out masks. Ms. Quimby said she had sent 25 to a niece in Boston who works as an outpatient rehabilitation therapist and a similar-size batch for a doctor’s office in Southampton. She said she had another 50 or 60 masks she would like to donate to staff at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital.
The Quimbys have used a template provided by Long Island Quilts for Kids, which calls for a double layer of cotton on the outside and flannel on the inside.
“It’s something nice to do, to be quarantined and be able to use the time mindfully and for others,” she said.
More masks are being made by Taylor Neill, a 21-year-old senior at the State University of New York at Albany, who is spending her spring semester at home, taking online classes, now that the college has closed its doors.
“I heard there was a shortage and decided to make the masks,” she said. “Anything is better than nothing. Even though it’s not the N95 mask, you can put them over them.”
Ms. Neill, who said she had some experience sewing as a hobby, learned how to make the masks by watching a YouTube video. Said she had donated 15 masks to a nurse who works at the hospital and has been asked by a local business to make 50 for its workers.
“People are wearing scarves or bandanas,” she said. “They need better coverage.”
Early in the pandemic, public health officials said there was no reason for people to wear masks, but that advice seems to be changing the longer the pandemic lasts. Op-Ed and news articles have appeared in major American papers, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, suggesting that masks, while not perfect, may provide some level of protection for the people wearing them.
Businesses have also stepped up to help. Jason Liebnitzky, one of the owners of Water Mill Building Supply, said when his business received a fairly large order of N95 respirators, which resemble gas masks with changeable filter cartridges, he sent about 100 of them to the hospital.
“I didn’t want to put anything on the shelves,” he said. “I wanted to get them in the hands of the people who needed them most.”
Joan Dickinson, the community relations director of Stony Brook University, is overseeing
the collection of medical supplies for the Stony Brook University hospitals. She can be reached at Joan.Dickinson@stonybrook.edu or by telephone at 631-219-0603.