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Column: A call to arms to produce mask covers during new coronavirus health crisis

Christina Holloway

James Hatcher

BY JAMES HATCHER AND CHRISTINA HOLLOWAY

VIRGINIA BEACH — Our nation, our communities and our healthcare system are under attack from an invisible enemy. In fact, the whole world is facing an escalating crisis that we have not faced since the 1918 influenza epidemic. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in 1918 one third of the world population was infected and over 50 million deaths occurred worldwide, with about 675,000 occurring in the United States alone.

Now we face the new coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease that can be caused by the virus.

On Thursday, March 26th, the United Nations tweeted, “We are at war with a virus, and not winning it. … This war needs a wartime plan to fight it.”

Our healthcare system — which already has been facing a quiet crisis, with over 120 rural hospitals closing since 2010 and about 30 facing bankruptcy in 2019 — operates at near capacity with limited ability to surge. With this escalating pandemic, our hospitals are rapidly barreling toward becoming incapacitated. New York is already beginning to see indications.

Collectively, Christina Holloway, my nurse practitioner, and I – along with Helene Molnar, the CEO of one of our long-term care facilities where we work – realized several weeks ago that our current supplies of masks, gloves, gowns and face shields would be depleted quickly if we continued normal disposable use, since the supply chain has been nearly frozen.

We embarked on a project to make washable fabric covers for the surgical and N-95 masks to conserve our dwindling supply. Similar to how a pillowcase protects a pillow, these fabric covers can protect our masks to allow reuse multiple times.

To ensure proper use of these covers, and the protection of our long-term residents, we have established recommended procedures for the use and care of these fabric covers and masks. Each employee is given a fabric cover and either a N-95 or surgical mask to use. At the end of their shift, employees sanitize their mask and fabric cover. The mask is removed, and it is sanitized by spraying both sides with alcohol (a greater than 60 percent solution), then allowing them to air dry. The fabric covers are then washed at a high temperature.

These procedures will allow use for multiple days. We estimate that this will extend the current supply of the masks until industry can ramp up production. This will also allow the limited supplies that do make it through to be used by our hospital staff and first responders who are also facing critical shortages. A rescue squad friend indicated that one rescue used six N-95 masks for the three squad members.

With the Virginia Beach Strong movement conceived after the shootings this past year at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, we’ve seen the caring, compassion and coming together of the community in a time of adversity. Our first responders, assisted living facilities, long-term care facilities, doctor’s offices, urgent care facilities, physical therapy, residential care, home health and hospice organizations are desperately and urgently in need of a similar level of Virginia Beach community support with producing these washable covers. 

Your support will lessen the strain on the fragile supply chain and allow our healthcare providers to continue protecting our most vulnerable residents and patients. Additionally, it will hopefully give a sense of community purpose and belonging during this time of uncertainty, while at home, social distancing. 

We are at war, and, like the voices of the American Revolution responding to Paul Revere, will you answer our call to arms?


Dr. James Hatcher is the medical director at the Citadel and River Pointe nursing facilities. Christina Holloway is a nurse practioner at Citadel.


Virginia state Sen. Jen Kiggans, R-7th District, is collecting mask covers through her district office, 4620 Haygood Road, Suite 8. Please reach the office by email via district07@senate.virginia.gov or at (757) 990-3080. Kiggans is a nurse practitioner.


© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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