MANKATO — A request from her mom prompted Callie Hedlund to organize a group of fellow Mankato area sewers to make protective masks.

Hedlund’s mom is a nurse who provides private home care and asked Hedlund to make her a few masks because her employer had run out.

Her mom is now home ill — with symptoms consistent with COVID-19, though she hasn’t been tested. While her mom recovers, Hedlund is making masks for others who need them.

With help from Jesi Noakes, Hedlund started a Facebook group coordinating with other volunteers to make and distribute cotton surgical-style masks.

Meanwhile, a nurse at the Mankato Surgery Center also has started a Facebook group to help her make masks with a special material. Joleen Harrison is collecting a sterile surgical cloth that might provide better protection than cotton.

The effectiveness of handmade masks is uncertain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends health care providers use them only as a “last resort.”

Medical professionals do not recommend healthy members of the public use any type of masks, because of limited effectiveness and because they can increase risk of infection if they aren’t worn properly. Public consumption also reduces the supply available to health care facilities.

Hedlund said she hopes her efforts will help conserve the supply of the most effective masks — called N95 respirators — for health care workers working on the front lines of the pandemic. She also hopes to help provide at least some level of protection for other people who are at risk.

Hedlund’s “Makato Masked Moms” group distributed 35 masks made over the weekend to group home workers, a church that was providing drive-thru communion and a few others.

Homemade masks 3

The hand-sewn masks are made from cotton fabric and elastic when available.

Hedlund said there is a post on her page where individuals can request masks, but her first priority will be filling requests from health care workers.

Harrison said nursing homes will likely be the beneficiaries of her mask-making effort. She is still in the material gathering, prototyping and volunteer organizing stage.

Her group will use material used to wrap surgical instruments to keep them sterile in operating rooms. In addition to her own employer, the nurse is contacting other surgical centers to donate excess supplies of the wrap, which is similar to the cloth used in surgical masks.

Harrison said she has around 20 volunteers starting to make masks or ready to do so when more surgical wrap is acquired. Prospective helpers can find her page at www.facebook.com/groups/231209014723526

Hedlund said she’s been “overwhelmed” by the response to her idea. Even people who can’t sew are offering to provide supplies or other assistance.

“It’s so cool to see how many people are stepping up to help,” she said.