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Fairfield mask-making group redoubles efforts ahead of school reopening

Jefferson County Public Health nurse Deb Buch wears the first isolation gown, sewn by Fairfield Mayor Connie Boyer in April. A group of mask- and gown-makers in Fairfield has distributed thousands of masks and many gowns throughout the community, and now it is focusing on making masks for children before the first day of school on Aug. 24 (Photo submitted)
Jefferson County Public Health nurse Deb Buch wears the first isolation gown, sewn by Fairfield Mayor Connie Boyer in April. A group of mask- and gown-makers in Fairfield has distributed thousands of masks and many gowns throughout the community, and now it is focusing on making masks for children before the first day of school on Aug. 24 (Photo submitted)
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FAIRFIELD – A group of Fairfield residents has banded together to make masks to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and now the group is preparing a fresh round of masks for children when they return to school on Aug. 24.

The group goes by the name “Sewing Masks and Gowns – the War Effort.”

Its Facebook group has 255 members. It is a combination of two groups that started in the spring to make masks for Jefferson County Public Health. One was started by Diane Rosenberg and Barbara Harshberger, and the other by Lisa Cohen.

Eventually, the two groups saw they were doing the same thing and joined forces. At that time, the focus was on supplying masks to the Jefferson County Health Center, when masks were in short supply. Since then, masks have been directed to local nursing homes and then later to the public at large.

Pam Corrick is a member of the group who has made more than 1,000 masks. She has been sewing since she was a child but hadn’t sewn for many years until the pandemic. The last time was when she sewed Halloween costumes for her children, who are now grown.

Since the pandemic hit, Corrick has sewn most days of the week. On a good day, she can sew as many as 45 masks, but most days it’s closer to 15.

Most of the masks Corrick sews are pleated, which can be made more quickly than the Olson-style masks, which can fit a disposable filter.

“I’m finding that most hospitals and other places don’t care about the style of mask. They just want something that covers the face,” she said. “The masks don’t need to have a filter, and the filter takes a lot more time to sew in.”

Corrick said she initially expected the mask-making project to have wound down by now in the middle of the summer. She recalls several months ago when someone offered an Independence Day-themed mask, and Corrick told herself, “Oh, we won’t need it by then.”

“I’m glad we took it,” she said.

Cohen said the initial push in the group was to make masks, and that has since expanded into making medical gowns as well.

Although Cohen doesn’t sew herself, she took on the responsibility of publicizing patterns and gathering donations for the group.

“Everybody was really gung ho at first, and then people got burned out,” Cohen said.

But the group has redoubled its efforts as the first day of school approaches, and hundreds of children in the Fairfield Community School District are in need of masks.

Debi Plum, a member of the sewing group and a member of the district’s school board, said the group hopes to make 400-500 masks for the youngest children, those in grades preschool through first grade who attend Washington Elementary School.

Plum said little masks that fit their faces are in short supply, so the group is prioritizing masks for them.

The school district has said that it will provide face shields for all students and faculty this year, but those face shields are to remain in the school building. The children will need separate cloth masks when riding the bus or playing at recess.

Once the youngest children have masks, the sewing group plans to make masks for students in grades two through four at Pence Elementary School. Plum said masks for middle and high school students are widely available, but the group will sew masks for students of any grade who need them but cannot afford them. Plum added that the district also will have disposable masks available at all its buildings.

Plum said the group is making a special effort to distribute masks now, and not just to children but the whole community. She said the only way school can reopen safely is if the county’s COVID-19 numbers remain low.