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Pensacola Mask Sewers Slowing Down After 30,000 Masks

Pensacola Mask Sewers

After 11 weeks and a little over 30,000 masks, the Pensacola Mask Sewers group is slowing down. 

“As the state started opening up, the requests for masks was tapering off,” said Jess Patton, who created the group and its synonymous Facebook group of nearly 2,800 members. “We were making about 5,000 masks week after week before things started to slow down.”

While the request form is still live, Patton said they have not been getting requests from healthcare facilities, which became the focus of the group in later weeks. In addition to masks, the group made “hundreds and hundreds” of gowns, surgeon’s caps and other personal protective equipment (PPE) for facilities in the local area. Patton said a subgroup of volunteers even made a couple thousand masks to be sent to the Navajo Nation. 

“A lot of people are still making masks for their mental health,” said Patton. “Volunteers have been working nonstop for 11 weeks. At that point, the group needs a rest.”  

A majority of volunteers are transitioning back to work, which is another reason for the group coming to a close. The Facebook group has been archived, and unused fabric scraps have been donated to individuals and nonprofit organizations. 

Even though the group is ending, the pandemic is not.  Saturday, the Florida Department of Health confirmed 2,581 additional cases of COVID-19 —  which follows two days of record number cases. That brings the total number to 73,552 cases in the state. Escambia County has the largest number of cases in the panhandle at 961.

Dr. Megumi Maguchi at Advanced Geriatrics & Primary Care said masks are not just important for healthcare workers, and her patients — who are generally at-risk — but for everyone. 

"You don't know who has the virus," said Maguchi. "Masks prevent other people from getting something from you. It's very important. I cannot really pinpoint an end date to the pandemic." 

The efforts from the Pensacola Mask Sewers has made a "big impact" for Maguchi, who said the group stepped in to provide PPE when she couldn't find supplies online. 

"It's benefitted personnel since no one has tested positive for the virus," she said. "I cannot say enough how grateful I am."

Even after distributing 30,000 masks, Patton said she’s still surprised to see some mask-less faces in the local area. Cloth masks are still recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In some circles, you’re ostracized (for wearing one),” said Patton. “I think that’s due to our nation’s leadership refusing to wear a mask. It’s for the well-being of your neighbor. This is how we serve one another.” 

As more people became affected by the pandemic — and then with protests breaking out in Pensacola and around the world against police brutality — Patton said the time spent with the group has been as much of a lesson in humanity as it has been a comfort. 

Credit Pensacola Mask Sewers
Sharon Guttmann of The Hearing Center wears an adaptive mask with a vinyl front for patients who read lips.

“There’s people in this group I would have never met in any other circumstance, but we came together to serve people,” she said. “We’ve come together in unity — that for me has been the biggest takeaway.” 

When a vaccine is available, Patton said she wants to meet volunteers and mask recipients in person with a celebration of everyone’s efforts. She’d also like to commemorate the group in some way and remember this period of time.

“I think of this tree in City Park in New Orleans that’s filled with chimes, which is healing to me,” she said. “I’d like to use remaining donated funds to create a space for reflecting.”  

The group kept a spreadsheet to keep up with orders. Looking at it now, Patton said she was blown away. 

“I stopped and looked at the numbers and thought maybe we really did make a difference,” she said. “We came together with a single purpose and we met that purpose.” 

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.