Three to four weeks.

Without assistance or intervention, that's how long the Community Clinic of Southwest Missouri's supply of protective face masks will last, according to clinic Director Stephanie Brady.

And that estimate only takes into account the needs of clinic staff. In the best-case scenario, Brady said, she'd like to provide masks to residents who come in seeking care and send masks home with patients.

"At the community clinic, we see so many patients with chronic health conditions that put them at very high risk with regards to COVID-19," Brady said. "With the shortage of masks, not only in Joplin but all over the world, we worry about those patients in need, but we do not have additional resources to give them masks to take home."

After searching medical supply vendors for weeks and finding no available masks, Brady said she's thankful for local residents who have reached out to offer help — specifically, those who can use a needle and thread on cotton fabric.

Carthage resident Kimberly Fisher started working with her mother to make masks after seeing requests on social media addressing the need.

"My mom, who is battling ovarian cancer, has always been an active volunteer in our community," Fisher said. "She is not used to sitting still and staying put at home."

Fisher has worked as an assistant prosecuting attorney for 14 years in Jasper County. Her mother, Sue Davidson, of Joplin, is a retired sewing teacher with the Joplin School District. The two of them work together and have welcomed into their project several friends from the Lamplighters women's group at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.

Using 100% cotton fabric and specifications from one of Fisher's friends in the medical field, the team is sewing lined masks that include a pocket for a removable moisture barrier.

"I think anyone can help," Fisher said. "I cannot sew well, but I can cut out the material and I can also get the finished (product) out to the community, which my mom cannot do because she is immunocompromised."

Since March 21, team members have made at least 76 masks and say they'll continue as long as there's a need. For now, their deliveries have been earmarked for the community clinic and NHC Healthcare in Joplin.

"We have been amazed by the outpouring of people in our community who want to help by making masks," Brady said, although she admits the effectiveness of homemade masks is being widely debated in the medical community both at home and abroad.

Dr. Robert Tyler, medical director at the clinic and faculty member at Joplin's campus of the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, said alternate equipment like homemade masks shouldn't be viewed as a substitute for more proven protective measures. But the same is true, he warned, of the "regular" masks that are in short supply around the globe.

"Prevention with social distancing, meticulous hand-washing and avoidance of crowds is our best defense," Tyler said.

Meanwhile, Fisher is grateful for this chance to work with her mother on an outward-focused project that may be of help to their community of neighbors and health care workers.

Brady agrees. "Making the masks brings people together toward a common goal in an emergency and it helps us feel we are doing something when everything else feels so out of sorts. Personally," she said, "I think that is beautiful."

Sarah Coyne is a family and parenting columnist for The Joplin Globe. She can be reached at scoyne@joplinglobe.com.

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