We hope for the best, but we also need to prepare for every eventuality.
Laura Kipper, a WashU Nephrology transplant administrative coordinator, and Karen Kirk, a nurse at Forest Park Dialysis Center, are doing just that as they help fight the spread of COVID-19 and support our healthcare workers by sewing cloth facial masks in their spare time.
“I just want to do what I can to help prevent and/or slow the spread of this virus,” says Kipper. “I learned to sew when I was in middle school, so I have been doing it a long time!” She is presently finishing up about 30 masks. “They still need ties attached, which is what I’m working on now.”
Nurse Karen Kirk has been making cloth masks for the staff at our Forest Park center for several weeks now. The masks, being worn over N95 and surgical masks, have the advantage of being able to be laundered and re-used. The cloth masks not only help to extend the life of the medical mask, but also “look nicer” according to nephrologist George Jarad. “We still hope the cloth masks will not have to be used alone, although it is good to know we have such an option if the situation changes,” he says.
As for nephrology’s supply of medical masks, Dr. Jarad says that thanks to the efforts of Jodean Baldauf, senior director of business operations & business development, and Rick Hasamear, manager of technical services, we are still getting regular shipment of masks weekly, with only a little reduction in the number.
“I am inspired how staff have brought forth ideas and offered to help our staff and patients,” says Baldauf.
Our supply of medical masks also gets the occasional boost from donations, both from friends of the division and from staff. Research technician II Alanna Gould, who works in the Feng Chen laboratory just donated 10 vacuum-sealed respirator/surgical masks!
In addition to the DIY cloth masks helping conserve the supply of the much needed N95 masks, the division has plans to disinfect the respirators. A protocol is in place to use a UV-C irradiator (Spectrolinker, XL-1500 UV Crosslinker) to decontaminate and reuse N95 masks. Jarad says, “It should be running by the end of this week.”
Kipper and Kirk’s efforts are in sync with the recent CDC recommendation that everyone use cloth face coverings when social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (such as grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.