News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Volunteers rally to sew homemade face masks

Last week, a respected scientific panel told the White House that research now shows that the coronavirus can be spread by talking, or possibly even just breathing.

According to a federal official, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been preparing to recommend that everyone wear homemade face coverings in public settings, like pharmacies and grocery stores, to avoid spreading the virus.

Public health officials have continued to stress that N95 masks and surgical masks should be saved for frontline doctors and nurses, who have been in dire need of protective gear.

With a whole lot of heart in the effort, seamstresses and quilters around Sisters Country, both professional and amateur, sat down in front of their sewing machines with just one pattern on their mind: face masks for healthcare workers battling the COVID-19 outbreak. With hospitals, senior homes, first responders and even essential businesses putting out desperate calls for masks, “sewist” Lori Chase, a Sisters resident, has been answering the need for more masks.

Chase told The Nugget, “We are at war with a virus that is attacking our world and we need to be proactive in taking defensive and preventative measures to combat it. Wearing a mask in the stores and post office is one way to prevent from touching the virus and transferring it to our faces.”

It was Chase’s niece, a nurse at Emmanuel Hospital in Portland in the COVID-19 unit, that inspired her to start making homemade masks.

“Although there is a group of us trying to reach the hospitals, store clerks, postal service workers and all of those who are serving us in our community, we need help,” she said. “Break out your sewing machines and teach yourself how to make a mask for yourself, your family members and your friends.”

She added, “Although the hospitals are asking for ties, elastic masks for residents and merchants go much faster.”

Local artist Kathy Deggendorfer has been crafting two masks an hour.

“I made a dozen for the Pete Shepherd campaign 5 day/500 mask project last week,” she said. “I have done another batch for friends and family and just gave one to Renee, owner of Fika Sisters Coffeehouse in Sisters.”

Deggendorfer had her car worked on at Van Handel Automotive and offered to make some for the staff that work there and delivered six for their crew.

St. Charles Health System has launched a 10,000-masks campaign and is asking for the public’s help once again with the donation of masks — this time, hand-sewn ones.

More than 2,500 homemade masks have already been donated, and St. Charles is now hoping to get 7,500 more — enough to provide every caregiver with two masks that they can launder and reuse.

Collaborating with health care professionals and volunteers, St. Charles has decided on a pattern that is both functional and comfortable for caregivers. (See pages 12-13 for sewing pattern.)

After the masks are donated at one of a number of sites around the region, (Sisters drop off for masks is St. Charles Family Care Clinic) they will be professionally laundered by St. Charles in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.

The hand-sewn masks are not approved personal protection equipment, or PPE, which must be worn by caregivers who are in contact with a person who is known or suspected to have COVID-19 or any other infectious disease.

Tonye Phillips, featured quilter for the 2020 Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show, has recently jumped on the 10,000-mask campaign band wagon after sewing a few for family.

Phillips said, “I do hope to set up more of a production line this coming week. I am inspired to do so for obvious reasons — the frontline of this battle against the virus needs them desperately! I received the newsletter from St. Charles healthcare as they are my providers, so I have downloaded one of the patterns they have posted. They are actually really fun to make and offer almost instant gratification. Plus, what a great way to use some of the fabrics I have acquired over the years and stashed away. It feels good to make them and everyone is so grateful. And, it feels really good to be able to do something that might actually help.”

Chris Laing, ombudsman for The Lodge in Sisters, had already joined the mask making cause on behalf of Pete Shepherd’s 5 day/500 mask initiative and is now sewing masks for the St. Charles 10,000 mask campaign. Laing is making them with the Age Friendly Sisters Country group for the hospital.

Local artist Randall Tillery and wife Valerie, a quilter, have also jumped on board with the St. Charles Health System’s 10,000 mask campaign.

“There is a need and it’s something that Valerie does well that I can help with,” Tillery explained. “We are both so saddened and concerned with what we are all going through as a nation. Our healthcare workers should have the PPE that they need to do their jobs as safely as they can. In my book, they are all heroes. They are risking their lives every day to help their fellow Americans.

“We dropped off 20 last week at St. Charles in Sisters and are making more. They distribute them to various agencies such as St. Charles Hospital, Bend Police Department, Summit Medical Group Urgent Care and Deschutes County Sheriff Department.”

While masks are believed to offer some protection, their use should not provide a false sense of invulnerability. With the news that federal authorities may recommend wearing masks in public, Oregon Health Authority reminded Oregonians that staying home and avoiding all non-essential contact with others continues to be the most important thing all of us can do to stay healthy and keep others healthy.

OHA notes that wearing a fabric mask can help prevent the spread of infection to others when the mask is worn by someone who already is infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, particularly if the person is coughing. The mask may block some infectious droplets from spreading when someone with the infection coughs or sneezes.

Paul Cieslak, MD, medical director for communicable diseases, OHA Public Health Division said that data does not tell them how much protection homemade cloth masks provide to the person wearing a homemade mask.

“For this reason,” he said, “homemade and fabric masks should not be considered reliable protection; but they may provide some benefit.”

For those who don’t sew but want a mask for their personal use, Bedouin will have masks for purchase soon at


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