Ten days ago as the coronavirus spread accelerated across Delaware and the country, Rupali Langote sat down at her sewing machine to see if she could stitch together a reusable facemask for health care workers.
Rupali was inspired to create the shields for healthcare workers by accounts that medical personnel were increasingly running short on the critical protective gear.
But her state spelling bee champion son Sahil and tech-savvy husband were skeptical that Langote could replicate a mask from their Wilmington home that met rigorous health care industry standards.
An accomplished sewer, Langote sewed her first prototype of a reusable cotton mask in hopes it could be donated to ChristianaCare Hospital.
“I asked my husband and son to try them on and they said, “Oh this may not work because they usually use professional-grade surgical masks,” said Langote.
But Rupali’s hunch was right, and in a matter of days that the demand from hospitals and health care workers for all kinds of equipment including scrubs, safety glasses, medical gloves and unused protective face masks – especially N95 masks – began to accelerate. However, ChristianaCare said simple ones would also do.
Shortly after she engaged with ChristianaCare, Rupali learned of a Facebook group that had just launched in an effort to mobilize sewers statewide to create and deliver masks and other supplies to healthcare workers.
Help for Healthcare Workers Delaware was the idea of Kristin Barnekov-Short, a Wilmington mom whose daughter is a front-line worker in the ICU division at Beebe Medical Center in Lewes.
Their members are pulling together to meet an urgent need. Hospitals, overwhelmed by the fast-spreading pandemic, are burning through their supplies of protective gear, especially masks, at an alarming rate.
“That made me very nervous, knowing that it’s highly likely that my daughter’s going to be providing care to people with the virus,” said Barnakov-Short.
About the same time, Barnekov-Short said she read a news story about a hospital in Chicago that put out a call to the public to help sew masks. “And I thought ‘That’s something I can do.”
The Help for Healthcare Workers Delaware Facebook group now has nearly 1,400 members.
Most are sewists, but many without that skill lend a hand any way can – by donating supplies or delivering masks daily to essential workers at places that need them. Places like nursing homes, Delaware Hospice, Exceptional Care for Children, the VA Hospital and ChristianaCare.
Barnekov-Short, who works in development at Reach Riverside, says new requests for face masks “keep coming in every day” from hospitals and health care facilities requesting as few as 30 to as many as 2,000.
So far about 60 medical and health care facilities have contacted Help for Healthcare Workers Delaware for help – 30 in New Castle County, 11 in Kent County and six in Sussex. That doesn’t even include the out of state requests, which have already topped a dozen.
Langote says she plans to make masks until she runs out of supplies. Averaging 25 masks per day when she first started, she’s now churning out many more. “If I plan properly, I can make about 50 masks per day,” she says.
Like virtually everyone else in the Facebook group, Langote has had to improvise. Many materials are simply not available – online or otherwise. Sewers are repurposing anything that comes to their imagination – coffee filters, bra straps, shoelaces, even ‘tee-shirt ties.’
“I had to use everything I already had on hand because there is simply no supply of anything right now to make face masks. They are out of elastic all over the USA,” said Langote.
Langote instead uses stretchable yearn she was able to order online for the pieces that wrap around the ears. She demonstrates how users can also adjust those straps for a snug fit by tying a simple knot.
The metal nose bridges used in face masks are also back-ordered until May. After thinking about her options, Langote decided to try using ornament hooks as a replacement. “And I’m just straightening them and putting them inside, and I’m trying to make sure I secure them so people won’t get hurt.
Donation drop off centers for healthcare workers
ChristianaCare plans to extend their multi-day collection of donated supplies in Newport through Saturday, March 28th, from 10 am to 2 pm – at 110 W. Market Street. Details on ways to contribute are available at https://christianacare.org/donors/covid/.
And the hospital is opening a second public collection center for supplies at the Westown Movie Complex at 150 Commerce Drive in Middletown. The donation center will be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Many on the Facebook group have expressed the satisfaction of knowing they are able to help during this unprecedented crisis. And for folks like Langote, the daily assignment is a welcome relief from the anxiety she might otherwise focus on every day.
“I always like to help the community – always, like volunteering. I just feel like I’m doing my small contribution. And I think everybody should contribute a little bit, whatever they can. And I’m really happy. Since I’m staying at home, I’m not getting bored. I’m using my time very wisely and then to do something for others,” she said.