Rebekah Gelatt Sharp and her daughters stand behind dozens of face masks sewn for area health-care workers. (Facebook)

Mask sewing network built in metro Atlanta through social media

Three Atlanta women decided to use their time in self-isolation during the coronavirus pandemic to help solve one of the most pressing problems for the nation’s health-care workers: a shortage of protective face masks.

They met on Facebook over the weekend, and by Monday they had assembled 150 volunteers throughout metro Atlanta and enough material to sew 60,000 masks, said Kirsten Hawkins, a fashion designer and co-founder of Sewing Masks for Atlanta Hospitals (COVID-19).

Many involved are furloughed employees of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees union, who work in the Georgia film industry creating costumes. Others belong to the DragonCon community — a sci-fi, fantasy, pop culture and gaming extravaganza that spans four days over Labor Day weekend and draws more than 85,000 guests from around the world.

And still others are just everyday people who can sew.

Hawkins said 32 facilities — including Emory, Piedmont, and Grady hospitals — had placed orders for the masks. Emory has provided the group with a template, Hawkins said.

The masks are made of elastic, woven fabric and a lower-grade polypropylene than what is used in N95 surgical masks.

Healthcare workers typically discard their N95 masks after treating a patient with a contagious illness. But because of the shortage, they were no longer able to do that, putting them at greater risk of contracting and spreading the virus.

Hawkins said doctors and nurses are covering their N95 masks with the ones made by volunteers. They can then sanitize and reuse them after treating patients.

“The CDC is telling people to use bandanas,” Hawkins said. “At this point, I think it’s better than nothing.”

On Monday, the group’s Facebook page had nearly 3,000 members. One of them posted a picture of herself and two daughters smiling behind a sewing machine and dozens of colorful masks.

“One hundred masks out the door today and on their way to Emory Eastside in Snellville,” wrote Rebekah Gelatt Sharp. “One hundred more ready for pickup tomorrow for Children’s Healthcare of Atl …

“Let’s get this done!!!”

Hawkins said that volunteers don’t deliver the masks directly to the health care facilities, but to a contact with a plastic bleach-cleaned bin on their porch where hand sanitizer must be provided. The masks are also sanitized once they arrive at the health care facility.

Hawkins and the other two co-founders of the group, Gina Rubano Livingston and Kayla Hittig, have yet to meet in person.

She said the group should have a website go live Monday evening at sewingmasksforatlantahospitals.com.

Anyone who wants to volunteer can contact the group at smahatlanta@gmail.com.

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