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Schenectady woman making face masks amid COVID-19, helping health workers stay safe

Schenectady woman making face masks amid COVID-19, helping health workers stay safe

Schenectady woman making face masks amid COVID-19, helping health workers stay safe
Patty Soules of Schenectady is shown with some of the colorful masks she’s been making to donate to area hospitals.
Photographer: Marc Schultz / Staff Photographer

Anti-bacterial soap, social distancing and self-isolation are ways people can fight the spread of novel coronavirus.

Patty Soules is trying two other ways -- bright colors and cotton fabric.

The longtime Schenectady sewing aficionado is pitching in by stitching in: She's creating cotton face masks for health professionals who are currently treating people showing signs of COVID-19.

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"I've made a lot of things," Soules said Monday, in a telephone interview from her Lowell Road home. "I've been sewing for probably over 35 years. Most everything I make is one of a kind, lately scarves or scrunchies, so I have a lot of fabric in my home."

Soules also has a lot of time on her hands. There's no work for her at Union College, where she's employed as an administrative assistant in the college wellness center. Union, like other colleges and businesses across the state, has closed as New York and the nation try to keep down the number of infections.

Soules needed something to do -- especially when she was feeling helpless over constant news about the national and world health crisis. Last Friday, Soules heard Governor Andrew Cuomo talking about the critical need for personal protection equipment.

Cuomo also mentioned sewing machines.

"That night, I couldn't sleep," Soules said. "I was restless and feeling very helpless, like I'm sure all of us are. The next morning, which was Saturday, I woke up. I have a paper mask here and I used that as my template and I just started.

"I texted a friend of mine locally who works in one of the emergency rooms or in emergency services and I asked, 'How bad is it?' And she said, 'It's bad.' "

"That day, I gave her 13 masks."

Soules has kept her one-woman, one-sewing machine production line moving. By Monday, she had also donated cotton masks with elastic fastening bands to medical personnel in Saratoga, Schenectady and Scotia.

Soules knows the masks may not meet specifications set by the federal Centers for Disease Control, but she said her masks are the same size and shape as the ones currently used by health providers.

"My masks are two-sided cotton fabric so they're 100 percent washable, which is great," Soules said. "They have an optional fabric-covered little vent filter so they could put that on if needed, just to give you that extra layer of security."

Soules' masks are a collection of colors.

"All the fabrics are pre-washed, people can take these home and wash them before they use them and wash them again and again," Soules said. "I just think nowadays, that makes sense. If I got something from a stranger, I would wash it if someone touched it."

Philip Schwartz, senior director for marketing communications at Ellis Medicine, said Ellis has received donations from the community.

"We've gotten an outpouring of support, we're really grateful for that and touched," he said. "One of the donations was more than 1,000 masks from Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County and we've gotten other masks donated to us in those quantities."

Schwartz also said Ellis will follow all CDC guidelines for all donations.

Soules hopes health care workers, whom she believes have been extending the normal use of paper masks, take home her cotton masks after a shift, wash them and use them again.

Soules has made about 100 masks so far, although mass production is not her usual style. "It's not a long process, once you know what you're doing and get in the groove," she said.

Soules, who said she has heard of other people manufacturing face masks, said the project has been good for her personal health.

"I just sew, it's what I do," she said. "It's my happy place, and to be able to not feel helpless is the bottom line. I don't feel helpless any more."

Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]

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The Daily Gazette is committed to keeping our community safe and informed and is offering our COVID-19 coverage to you free.
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