Masks and scrub caps rom the Cowichan Covid Action team. (Facebook)

Cowichan Valley COVID-19 helpers mobilize through Facebook

Mask and scrub cap sewing brigade connects online

When Cowichan District Hospital ER nurse Terra Lee saw how things were progressing at work due to COVID-19, she reached out to her friends and neighbours for help to ensure she and her coworkers could stay safe.

“I made a Facebook message on Maple Bay Neighbour to Neighbour asking if anyone would be willing to make and donate scrub hats,” Lee explained.

Nurses often make their own caps but no longer have the free time to do that. If anything, Lee figured she’d get a little bit of help at best. What happened next exceeded all expectation.

“Within 24 hours my post had been shared over 950 times!” she said. “What an incredible response! My message inbox was flooded. Within 24 hours I had hats coming in.”

RELATED: Take care with non-medical cloth masks during COVID-19

During a time when people are supposed to stay apart, things were coming together.

That’s when Gayle Hurmuses, a total stranger to Lee, stepped in to help.

“If something is going on and I see people doing stuff, I want to make sure there’s a way to organize them so they can be more efficient,” Hurmuses explained of her willingness to jump in.

All of a sudden hundreds of scrub hats were being made and logistical issues began to arise.

As a first step to organization, Hurmuses created the Covid Action Cowichan page on Facebook and that’s when things really took off.

“This amazing site gave a pathway — and soon enough volunteers had poured in. We came up with a proper policy and procedure to ensure the cleanliness and sterilization of the hats before coming to me to distribute to the hospital,” Lee said.

But it didn’t end there. As more volunteers stepped up, with some folks sourcing out and distributing sewing supplies and others sharing patterns and sewing and then, of course, the delivery of the finished products by another group.

“Hats have gone to everyone!” Lee said. “All staff here, as well as in the community, from nurses to doctors, respiratory therapists, housekeeping staff, care aids, family physicians, long term care staff, paramedics, and all the support staff. It all happened so fast. The response from our community has been absolutely insane.”

There’s another aspect to it too, it’s not just about safety, but connectedness, Lee explained.

“Everyone is wearing these caps with joy and pride. Many of us health care workers have been feeling very isolated. We are coming home from shift to be ‘isolated’ from our husbands, wives, and children as we are high risk,” she said. “The hats give us a feeling of connectedness. Our love for what the community has provided for us has been palpable. The colors, patterns, styles have been a treasure. We feel supported.”

That connectedness is the reason Hurmuses was so eager to be involved, too.

“I don’t want people to fall into despair and to suffer from that sense of incarceration. I’ve discovered that how you feel about something is critically important to the impact that it has on you,” she said. “Making masks and hats gives people a sense of being connected, involved, being part of something as opposed to being isolated and alone. Having them turn isolation into communication and connection and at the same time we’re making valuable protective equipment for the community that is otherwise unavailable and would have to be purchased is ideal.”

RELATED: COVID-19: Vancouver Island team working hard to quadruple ventilator capacity

The movement is continuing as more and more people join the Covid Action Cowichan page.

“We have close to 450 members on our Facebook page — most of who are contributing,” Lee said. “We are doing our best to provide the best patterns, ideas, policy and procedure in the safe making, handling and distribution. I am so proud how this team has come together.”

An estimated 1,000 masks and hats have been created by the group with the number growing daily.

“This project has branched to include the making of masks. As of now, health care providers are not allowed to use homemade masks, but we have had many donations to give back out into the community. I have given masks to the essential workers at the gas station, neighbours and their family, other store workers. The thought of the use of masks is shifting. Even the CDC and WHO are accepting the view of everyone using masks,” Lee said. “I feel all people in this community who lack the access to a mask should be able to have one, to protect themselves and protect others.”

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Masks and scrub caps rom the Cowichan Covid Action team. (Facebook)

ER staff show the love wearing scrub caps rom the Cowichan Covid Action team. (Terra Lee/Facebook)

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