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Putting on a Brave Face

Local residents create masks for health care workers during COVID-19 pandemic.

By Dylan Roche

In a time of great uncertainty, many locals have taken charge of one aspect of life they can control—the ability to make a difference.

For artisans and engineers during the COVID-19 pandemic, that means creating masks and other protective gear for health care personnel, first responders and other essential workers.

“When you go through something like this, everyone has gifts they can use—there’s always a place where you can make a difference,” says Julie Bays (pictured above), who has spent the past weeks making about 300 masks and 25 caps for the team at Anne Arundel Medical Center. “It’s amazing how people have risen up.”

Bays first heard about the need for extra masks from her daughter, who works in the emergency room at AAMC. As a family and consumer science teacher at Magothy River Middle School, Bays has both the sewing skills and the extra time while schools are closed, and she knew this was a task that was calling her.

She started working with fabric she had stockpiled at home, making as many masks as she could. In addition to delivering them to the hospital, she has donated them to other places where they’re needed, such as retirement communities, where she says the staff almost started crying with relief at her gesture of kindness. “It’s amazing how much the community needs them,” Bays observes.

She’s hardly the only one working to meet the overwhelming need that hospitals have seen since the COVID-19 pandemic began straining the resources available.

Chandra LudgwigChandra Ludwig, another local resident, was inspired to join the effort after learning about it from a friend on the West Coast who was making masks for hospital workers—or, more specifically, covers for the medical-grade N95 masks, which provide more efficient filtration of airborne particles than regular surgical masks. The covers, which can be swapped out and washed between shifts—help extend the life of the mask, Ludwig explains.

“I’m not really a sewer, but I thought, ‘What the heck? Why not?’” she says. “After producing a volume of them myself, I decided I would put it out there—because I knew others were doing the same thing—that I would collect them and drop them off at the hospital.”

The response was, as she puts it, incredible. She heard from people who were sewing them, she heard from health care workers (and loved ones of health care workers) who needed them, and she even heard from Uber drivers who were transporting first responders. So far, she has made about 100 covers and masks, which she has either delivered to the hospital or handed out directly to people who need them.

But it’s not just sewers who have found a way to make protective gear. Artisans and engineers in the Annapolis area have been using 3D printers to make face shields and masks, including volunteers at the nonprofit Annapolis Makerspace and the team at subsea services company Eclipse Group.

For these changemakers, collaboration with others was key to their success. As Trevor Gryffyn, vice president of Annapolis Makerspace, puts it, he and his teammates at the community-run workshop had the resources, though they needed some guidance. “We were happy to dive right in, but considering the time and materials and cost, we wanted our efforts to be as effective as humanly possible and not end up having to throw away items and waste time and materials that could be used toward better options,” he says.

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Annapolis Makerspace found the direction it needed by collaborating with OpenWorks in Baltimore, which works alongside We The Builders and their Makers Unite initiative. “Signing up for that gave us a clear course of action as far as what design to use, what materials, where to deliver the 3-D prints to,” Gryffyn explains. “From there, they handled disinfection and distribution.

Similarly, husband-and-wife team Steven and Joan Saint Amour, cofounders of Eclipse Group, donated $2,000 worth of personal protective equipment from their own company to Anne Arundel Medical Center, but they knew they wanted to do more. It wasn’t until Steven Saint Amour had an epiphany in the middle of the night that he had the answer. He recalls how he immediately raced to his computer to look up how to use a 3D printer to make face masks.

“There were designs ready to go,” he says. “I looked at two or three designs people were doing and picked one because it was the simplest. Simple is generally better. If I could push out one mask, two masks, four masks a day, that’s nothing.”

He soon found he would be able to push out more masks when his daughter suggested borrowing the 3D printers from St. Mary’s High School. Not only did St. Mary’s lend its printers and printing supplies; Principal Mindi Imes even reached out to more than 70 other schools and organizations to involve them in the effort.

st amour masks copyAmong those donating 3D printers to the Saint Amours’ effort is Anne Arundel County Public Library. “All we had to do was get the printers to him, and he’s doing all of this. It’s a perfect solution for us, because we had the printers, but we didn’t have the capacity to do [the masks] ourselves,” explains Catherine Hollerbach, chief of public services and branch management with AACPL. “By connecting with him, we’re able to contribute.”

Steven Saint Amour says he is amazed by the way the community has rallied around his endeavor. “This really is a group effort, and I still would be fiddling around with one printer if St. Mary’s hadn’t been so incredibly supportive,” he says.

While it remains to be seen how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last, all the volunteers who have stepped up to help agree that they want to keep contributing. “There’s no way to fulfill all the demand, especially with raw materials in very short supply, but we’ll keep working to make whatever dent we can in the need,” Gryffyn says on behalf of the team at Annapolis Makerspace.

The others agree, noting that although they are not health care workers or first responders themselves, it takes a community effort to get through a crisis. “Being able to do this gives me a sense of purpose,” says Ludwig. “It feels good just sitting here going through the motions of making the mask and to know that it’s going to help someone.”

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