Ed. — This originally ran in the Sunday, April 12, print edition.
VIRGINIA BEACH — State Sen. Jen Kiggans, a Virginia Beach Republican and a nurse practitioner, says efforts to make cloth masks and mask covers are helping medical professionals, first responders and others prevent the spread of the coronavirus while they work.
Kiggans’ district office has been coordinating distribution of masks to local organizations, including places that help geriatric patients, a population Kiggans works with in her medical job. Kiggans has seen support for efforts to provide face covers and mask covers from a range of volunteers — including some coordinated by her opponent this past year in the Virginia 7th Senate District race.
Kiggans said she and medical colleagues started to hear about the need for cloth masks and mask covers, which essentially can wrap and help protect medical-grade masks, when officials discussed the need to preserve personal protective equipment.
State officials have urged the public to wear cloth masks they make while preserving protective equipment needed by hospitals. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide information online at cdc.gov about how to make cloth face coverings, which the agency says have helped slow the spread of the virus.
Long-term care facilities have different needs than hospitals, but it is still important to protect residents, patients and personnel from the spread of the new coronavirus. Many of the deaths in Virginia related to Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, have been among residents of long-term care facilities, according to a summary by the Virginia Press Association of Gov. Ralph Northam’s daily briefing earlier this month.
“The people in the hospitals need the N-95s,” Kiggans said during a telephone interview, speaking of a type of mask in demand for hospitals. “They need the true, medical-grade disposables they can replace in between patients, where we don’t need that. We’re in more of a preventative stage right now, especially in our facilities.”
Cloth masks that cover the face are valuable, but Kiggans also stressed the demand for cloth mask covers.
“The best way to do it is to slide in the medical-grade disposable masks in between two layers of cloth, and then we can wash the cloth outside every day and spray down the inside with alcohol spray,” she said. “That’s our best way to extend the supply we do have for the communities we’re in, which is long term care, special care and primary care.”
She said her office has helped get masks to those who need them.
“Some of the groups were making masks, and we coordinated with some of them and have continued to coordinate these cloth masks,” Kiggans said.
Among the citizens who reached out to help is former state Del. Cheryl Turpin, who ran against Kiggans for state senate.
“It was great,” Kiggans said. “She gave me these bags of masks. Who made all these? It was all their volunteers. … She’s doing great with just getting people to sew, and we’re working together because I have a lot of contacts with the facilities out there.”
Turpin, reached by phone, said members of the BlueWave Volunteers have been working to make masks for organizations such as the Virginia Beach Department of Health, Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office and even a local drug store that asked about them.
She said the volunteers have made more than 1,000 masks while limiting contact. Turpin drops off supplies on a porch, and a volunteer who makes the masks might drop off the completed product on Turpin’s porch.
“We’re trying to aim for organizations that are servicing the community but might not have access to what they need to do what they need,” Turpin said.
Amid the pandemic, these community efforts aren’t about partisanship.
“It was a rough campaign, but she’s still my senator, you know,” Turpin said.
Turpin had helped organize the production of masks. Kiggans had the contacts in the medical community to help determine who needed them.
Turpin recently delivered masks to Kiggans, and the two are keeping in touch. “It’s about making sure everybody’s safe,” Turpin said.
Via social media, Kiggans has passed along messages to constituents about the need for social distancing amid the public health emergency. In her own work, she has seen tools such as telehealth help keep patients safe. Some patients have even been screened outside in their cars.
Kiggans said it is important for people to seek needed medical and mental health care during the emergency, especially people who may feel isolated during a time of great stress. She urged people to use hotlines when they need them – and to reach out for help.
“The resources are still there,” Kiggans said. “They’re still manning the hotlines. … We’re in this together, like everyone says, and you’re not alone.”
Kiggans is collecting masks and mask covers through her district office, 4620 Haygood Road, Suite 8. Reach the office at email@example.com or at (757) 990-3080.
Turpin said the BlueWave Volunteers can use supplies, especially elastic. Reach her at (757) 965-9763.
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