UWM employees who have to be on campus during the coronavirus pandemic are protecting those around them, thanks to the efforts of a volunteer group of mask makers who have donated more than 500 cloth face coverings. Another 500 masks are in the works.
James Fay, occupational health and industrial hygiene program manager at UWM, made contact with the group, The Masked Sewists for Southeastern Wisconsin, after seeing a story about their work on television.
The Masked Sewists is a group of 3,200 volunteers creating masks on their sewing machines at home and donating them to organizations that can use them. So far, the group has made more than 43,000 washable cloth masks, according to Donica Lintner, owner of Log Cabin Sewing Company in Butler, who organized the group and helps coordinate it. (They use the name “sewists” rather than “sewers,” which can easily be mispronounced to sound like the plumbing structures, she said).
Donated time, talent, materials
All those doing the sewing are contributing their time, talent and materials. Businesses are also helping out, according to Lintner. For example, Tacony, which makes sewing supplies, is donating fabric, elastic and other materials, and a company that makes skates is helping to pre-cut materials.
“Their group is doing and amazing job having an incredible impact on the community by helping prevent the transmission of COVID-19 and flattening the curve,” said Fay. While the masks are not meant to replace social distancing, they do provide one more layer of protection for those essential employees who are having to spend at least some time on campus, he added.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended masks or face coverings as a way of helping slow the spread of coronavirus. These nonsurgical masks help keep those wearing them from spreading the virus through coughs or sneezing. This is especially important since many people with COVID-19 may not be showing symptoms, according to the CDC.
“It may have some impact on protecting the user, but really the intent is to keep the user of the mask from spreading the virus,” Fay said. “Some of our essential employees are in need of additional protection because they may need to use public transportation to get to work, and social distancing may be difficult for them if they have to interact with residents or other employees.”
Police and others
Those receiving the masks at UWM include police officers, Norris Health Center staff, housing employees, Student Union staff, facilities and environmental services workers, photographers, videographers and food service workers.
Fay picked up the masks made for UWM at one of eight drop-off sites the Sewists operate in the four-county area they serve – Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties.
He left flowers and a thank-you note at the drop-off, and the Sewists posted a photo on their website to share with all their volunteers.
“I wrote the card on behalf of all of UWM Panthers to express our appreciation and gratitude for their efforts,” said Fay.