Burrillville woman steps up to answer local facemask shortage


BURRILLVILLE –  Armed with fabric and goodwill, a local EMT hopes to do her part to help area healthcare workers facing a shortage of supplies to curb the spread of COVID 19.

Allison Plante has made 40 homemade facemasks out of colorful cotton materials picked up at fabric shops, with plans to donate her creations to local medical providers. The masks use a non-porous interfacing between cotton layers with the aim of creating a product similar in grade to regular surgical masks.

“I’m trying to make mine as medical-grade as possible,” said Plante. “This is similar to the blue surgical masks we wear now. I spoke with some doctors and they are also using this.”

Plante said she decided to start the project after reading an article about a hospital in midwest that was seeking the homemade masks to address the shortage. A Burrillville resident who works as an EMT for a private, local company, Plante has a first-hand understanding of the need for added safety measures and supplies, and the danger healthcare workers are currently facing.

She’s recruited family members to help with the at-home project, with her kids sorting and pinning the fabric, while her husband measures, cuts and irons.

Plante handles the final step, assembling it all with her sewing machine.

“Everything is pre-washed then ironed flat,” she said.

Plante began gathering supplies to create the masks last week, and noted that they cost around $2 a piece to build. She started assembly late Saturday night, and says she worked for about six hours on Sunday.

On Monday, March 23, she told NRI NOW that she plans to go right back to work after helping her kids with their first day of distance learning.

“With two kids at home, I’m juggling a lot,” she said.

Her masks are reusable, and Plante recommends wearers store them safely in sealable sandwich bags for transport, washing them in a dishwasher nightly, since water in the machines gets hot enough to kill the virus.

A local nursing home has already requested 50 of her masks to make up for a shortage, and Plante says she’s also received many private requests.  She’s asking people who want them to help out by donating supplies, and also hopes that locals will be understanding of the fact that she hopes to supply them to those who need them most first.

“I’m trying to focus on healthcare workers,” she said.

Plante’s goal is to assemble 1,000 masks – as long has she can find everything she needs to get the job done.  But securing enough supplies has already become an issue.

It seems she’s not the only person locally with the innovative idea. Stores such as JoAnn Fabrics have seen an uptick in sales of fabrics that can be used to create at-home masks, as well as sewing machines.

Plante is quickly running out of the 1/4 inch braided elastic she needs to assemble the masks, normally found at stores including Walmart and Target. She found a small supply on eBay, which she expects to receive within the next few days.

“They’re all sold out,” she said.

It’s not surprising. As employees at hospitals and nursing homes across the country look to prevent pathogen transmission of COVID 19, the surge in need has led to a critical shortage. The Center for Disease Control recommends the use of FDA-cleared surgical masks – designed to protect against splashes and sprays. But the shortage means that those closest to danger from the pandemic are using the masks beyond their manufacturer-designed shelf life, and even re-using them.

A guide put out by the CDC notes that homemade masks can be used by healthcare providers “as a last resort,” when the FDA-approved masks are not available.

Rhode Island manufacturer Honeywell announced on Monday that the company is ramping up production of needed masks at their facility in Smithfield.

But as businesses across the globe prepare to change their focus to projects that can help to limit the spread of the virus, homemade items may allow those on the frontlines of the fight some short-term protection.

In addition to the 1/4 or 1/8 inch braided elastics, Plante is seeking 100 percent cotton fabric equaling 18 inch in length and 12 inches wide, and
any color cotton thread.

“I will be making all masks free of charge and donating as much as I can,” she said. “I would love to do this on a large scale but will need community support.”

Plante has asked that anyone able to donate supplies contact her here via Facebook. 

Update: Plante dropped of 75 of her masks to Overlook Nursing and Rehab on Thursday, March 26.

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