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Local Facebook group continues making cloth masks despite hiccups

Northern Montana Health Care continues to receive masks from across the Hi-Line


April 24, 2020

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

Danielle Eldridge sews ties to a mask Thursday at a building inside of the Pioneer Village apartment complex in Havre. Eldridge she has completed around 65 masks since she started.

Demand for cloth masks in Havre and the surrounding area persists, and local groups of volunteers continue their efforts to provide, despite some ongoing difficulties.

Shannon Heggem who manages and moderates the Help Needed To Sew Masks For Northern Montana Hospital Facebook group, created last month, says, the recent change in guidelines from the CDC which recommend people wear masks outside regardless of whether or not they have symptoms has kept the demand for masks going.

"We're all sort of just waiting in limbo wondering what's going to happen, I mean thank goodness we still have just the one case in Hill County, but I think the need for masks is ongoing," Heggem said.

She said, as of last week, the group's members have made 1,180 masks, and that number has gone up since.

"We have the same core of people continuing to make these masks, and it's amazing to see the community come together and support our health care workers," Heggem said.

Northern Montana Health Care Public Information Officer Julianne LaSmith said, the hospital has been receiving cloth masks from across the Hi-Line.

"The first weekend that we put the call out one of the Hutterite colonies made 300 of them, then there's been other groups too... a neighbor of mine two days ago called me and said she left six of them on my doorstep," she said.

LaSmith said these masks are useful because they can be laundered and, the hospital has been making full use of them to help patients coming into the facility.

"We have dialysis patients that come here to be dialyzed three times a week, we've actually issued them masks that they bring back and forth with them," she said, "But say, for example, they come with a support person to help them up to dialysis, we give that support person a masks to wear and they just turn it back in before they leave, and that mask goes back into our laundering process."

She said isolation gowns are still an area of potential shortage and they would be happily accepted from the public. Although, she said the gowns are more difficult to make and require some level of expertise in sewing.

Heggem said her Facebook group is focused on making masks for health care providers specifically, and it has been difficult to balance that with the recent influx of individuals requesting masks directly on the page.

Heggem said her group has gained attention from national organizations that reached out to provide advice and information to help them with their efforts. However, she said, not all the attention the group has gotten has been good.

"We've had a lot of foreign companies that have tried to make posts in the group to sell their masks, so that's an ongoing battle as we get more and more of that," she said. "... that's not what we're about."

She said she finds the situation somewhat amusing despite the trouble it causes.

"Like, I mean, how do they even find us," she said jokingly.

She said individuals from the U.S. have also tried to advertise masks they're selling on the page as well, which Heggem said she has no problem with, in theory, but thinks it is inappropriate for the Facebook group.

"Moderating the pages have been interesting, you're dealing with a lot of different personalities," Heggem said.

She said there have also been instances early on, where negativity on the page actively hampered the group's efforts.

She said, for example, at one point, the group faced a problem with conspiracy theorists attempting to politicize the pandemic and spread misinformation.

"We've had a few posts from conspiracy theorist who don't believe there is a pandemic, and that this is caused by 5G cellphone towers," Heggem said.

She has since changed the settings of the group so posts could only come through her and she has to approve everything.

However, despite the issues the group has faced, Heggem said the experience of coordinating the masks making efforts has been overwhelmingly positive.

"Just watching it spiderweb through the community has just been incredible," she said.

Heggem said the attention the group has received has also allowed her to expand her efforts to another part of the U.S.

She said she was recently contacted by an officer from the Chicago Police Department related to a member of the group who told her about the situation he, and his fellow officers were in.

"His particular group is transferring COVID-positive inmates from the prisons and jails to the hospitals and they don't have any masks, they don't have any gloves they have nothing, no PPE," Heggem said, "... He had lost two partners in two weeks to COVID, I mean they were just lambs for slaughter."

Havre Daily News/Jack Lambert

Danielle Eldridge examines her work after completing a mask Thursday at a building inside of the Pioneer Village apartment complex in Havre. Eldridge says that it takes about 20 minutes for her to complete a mask from start to finish.

Heggem started a separate Facebook group that originally just asked if people knew anyone in the Chicago area and if so to let them know about the situation. Since then, members of this new group took it upon themselves to start making masks and ship them to the officers in need.

Heggem said she made a separate page because she didn't want people to think they were diverting masks meant for the hospital to another state. But, she said what has happened since has only reminded her how grateful she is to live in the community she does.

"Our small town attitude is such a unique thing because in the big city, I mean I have contacts in (the Chicago) area, but the people who actually rallied together and got masks for those officers were people here in our community, and I think that's just phenomenal," she said.

Heggem said the daughter of one of the group's members who lives in Illinois has since made more than 1,000 masks for the Chicago Police Department by herself.

"I'm very thankful to live in this community," Heggem said.


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