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Volunteers needed to produce millions of masks for caregivers

Posted at 10:48 AM, May 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-07 12:50:29-04

Utahns are leading a worldwide effort to ensure that caregivers who are treating COVID-19 patients have the protection they need to be as safe as possible, but more volunteers are needed.

Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah Health, Latter-day Saint Charities, and several Utah nonprofits, are leading an effort known as ProjectProtect to enlist thousands of sewing volunteers across the state to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline caregivers, including more than five million medical-grade masks.

The project is shaping up to be the largest Utah-based volunteer effort since the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

The goal of ProjectProtect is to engage 10,000 volunteer sewers each week to produce more than five million medical-grade face masks that will be distributed to frontline health workers at the two Salt Lake City-based health systems.

Utahns are already responding. Since the initiative was kicked off on April 17, Utahns have made more than two million masks.

Intermountain Healthcare’s board chair and Utah Jazz Owner Gail Miller has also volunteered, personally sewing 200 masks. Her family has completed another 1,800.

“It’s exciting for me to have a little bit of a hand in helping health care workers, because I’m in that critical age where I don’t want to go outside,” said Miller. “I want to be careful, so this gives me an opportunity to do service and feel useful.”

ProjectProtect is also helping to produce reusable isolation gowns and more than 50,000 face shields, which are already being deployed to frontline caregivers for use while caring for patients.

Latter-day Saint Charities has worked with healthcare experts to create educational content and instructions for sewing the masks, while the Relief Society organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has tapped into its network of thousands of volunteers from around the world.

ProjectProtect will enlist an estimated total of more than 50,000 volunteers to sew clinical face masks in their homes — and more volunteers are invited to take part.

Details about what volunteers will be asked to do:
– They need the ability to follow detailed instructions and use a sewing machine.
– They need a sewing machine, thread, scissors, and pins. Material and instructions will be provided.
– Each volunteer will be asked to make 100 masks. Depending on the sewer’s level of experience, each mask will take five to 10 minutes to sew.
– Volunteers should expect to spend 10 to 15 hours sewing, plus they’ll need to pick up the materials and drop off the finished masks.

Since the idea for the ProjectProtect collaboration surfaced last month, experts from the three organizations – who work in services including supply chains, infectious diseases, operations, instructional design, and communications – have had daily meetings to work through the details.

“We’ve seen heart-wrenching stories of healthcare workers all over the world who are caring for COVID-19 patients without the protection they need and deserve,” said Tad Morley, vice president of outreach and network development at University of Utah Health. “We realized our regular supply chain couldn’t handle the demand and we didn’t want our frontline staff to face that same situation. So, we tapped into the resources that are based in the community to make sure they were protected.”

Dan Liljenquist, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Intermountain Healthcare, worked closely with Morley at U Health and Eubank at Latter-day Saint Charities, to help put the pieces together to get the grass-roots initiative off the ground.

“ProjectProtect is an unprecedented community collaboration in response to a once-in-a-generation pandemic, and it represents the dedicated work of dozens of professionals and hundreds, soon to be thousands, of volunteers,” said Liljenquist. “The principles of industry, volunteerism, and self-reliance run deep in Utah, and this initiative to locally manufacture personal protective equipment for frontline caregivers is a great example of that desire to help.”

One of the many Utahns who is supporting this important initiative is Utah native and PGA Tour winner Tony Finau is joining forces with ProjectProtect to raise awareness about the vital community effort to help protect frontline caregivers.

“We are proud to be a part of this, but more so, to help those on the front lines of the crisis who are the true heroes,” said Finau. “I invite all Utahns to help support this important community initiative.”

To learn more about the ProjectProtect initiative and to volunteer to sew masks, visit projectprotect.health, select the project location nearest you and register. You’ll receive an email confirmation with instructions. A printed copy of the confirmation email is necessary to pick up your materials kit.

“We invite all who are able and willing to sew medical grade masks to join us as we work together to ensure that caregivers battling COVID-19 have the equipment they need to stay safe,” says Liljenquist. “Your personal contributions to this effort will help save lives.”