SALISBURY – Efforts to sew face masks for health care workers began this week in both Wicomico and Worcester counties.
As hospitals and care facilities across the nation contend with shortages of protective gear amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Master Corrections Officer Joann Johnson is spearheading an effort at the Wicomico County Department of Corrections to make reusable face masks for local health care workers.
“It’s important to everybody because lives are at stake,” she said. “Everybody that can give a helping hand should give a helping hand.”
On Sunday, Johnson learned through social media that doctors and nurses were in need of personal protective equipment. By Monday, she was leading the charge at the detention center to make masks for corrections employees and those at Peninsula Regional Medical Center and other local facilities.
“I actually got my sewing machines from home and the materials and stuff that I needed and made a couple of prototypes and took them into work,” she said.
Johnson said she was eager to put her sewing skills to use. While she often handles small sewing tasks at the jail, Johnson said this would be the first time the detention center has worked with inmates on a large-scale sewing project.
“We set up shop yesterday in the library, me and four of the inmates,” she said. “We sat down and went through what worked and what didn’t work, and we came up with a final prototype.”
Johnson said she and the inmates would start making the masks on Friday. The masks will use 100% cotton material and MERV-13 filters combined with carbon sheeting to mirror the efficiency of N95 respirators.
“We are going to actually have two protections inside the masks,” she said. “They can take the insert out, wash the masks themselves, and insert another filter.”
Johnson noted masks would be delivered once they are finished. She said she hopes the project would benefit both community members and inmates, who can use their newfound sewing skills upon their release.
“I’ve been blessed to have the talent to sew,” she said, “so it’s my way of giving back to the community as well as helping the jail, the hospital, and hopefully the inmates.”
In Worcester County, the Red Doors Community Center has partnered with the detention center to sew masks as well.
“Being part of the community means helping out where we can,” Director Joy Connor said. “That’s what we do.”
Connor, who has a background in costume design, said she was excited to partner on the project. She said the nonprofit would also reach out to its independent contractors and church groups for help.
“If we can get enough supplies, it can be an activity for those that are self-quarantined and are vulnerable, but still want to feel like they are doing their part and helping out,” she said. “I think it can work for good both ways … not just supplying masks but making people feel useful and like they are a part of something.”