With a couple of masks or a truckload full, Minnesotans answered the call Sunday to donate protective gear for health care workers grappling with a shortage.
And if they didn’t have any to give, they made them. About 200 people stood waiting for Treadle Yard Goods to open to get one of the 25 fabric mask-making kits the St. Paul store was giving away.
Outside Minnesota Nurses Association’s offices in St. Paul, president Mary Turner thanked people in the waves of vehicles coming with donations.
“Since nobody can go to church, they’re coming to visit the nurses today,” she said between tears.
The nationwide and state effort stretched the gamut, from huge corporations exponentially multiplying their mask production to a neighbor in Victoria driving to a nurse’s house to deliver three leftover masks.
Part of the Minnesota mobilization was driven by Laura Danielson of Minnetonka, who called it moments of light in a time of darkness.
Danielson is in two book clubs, and over the decades the women have formed a support network as they’ve experienced life together: Divorces and childbirths, weddings and funerals.
When Danielson, 64, heard of the dire hospital shortages due to the pandemic, the attorney figured her book clubs could help. This weekend, they formed a Facebook group, Protect MN Medical Now, and are coordinating members and other volunteers to drive around the Twin Cities to pick up N95 masks, the face-worn air filters designed to block out 95 % of very small particles, and other equipment from doorsteps and donate to hospitals in need.
“We’ll pick up whatever and take it wherever,” she said. “People can go to a dark place in the face of this. But for the vast majority of people, the reaction is, ‘How can we help one another?’”
Outside the Nurses Association’s offices, Turner told an elderly couple who donated two masks that every mask protects one nurse and five patients. She was floored on Saturday when employees of Securian Financial brought in SUV after SUV filled with 20,000 N95 masks, and again on Sunday when Richard Forstner, the president of Mavo Systems, a White Bear Lake construction firm, brought 3,000 masks. Two women from a nail salon brought a carload of masks.
“They’re feeling afraid and anxious,” she said of her nurses. “It’s so important for the nurses of Minnesota to know not just how much people respect and honor them, but how much they love them.”
At the Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation in Minneapolis, donated boxes filled two waiting county vans Sunday.
By noon, 53 vehicles and two bicycles had dropped off supplies, said Ryan Rud, crew leader for Hennepin County’s Sentencing to Service program. Gloves and masks were the most common item, but others dropped off full hazmat suits, goggles, respirators and protective shoe covers.
“This was put together quickly, but the response is good,” Rud said.
Orv and Cleta Gingerich of Minneapolis both 74, donated a box of 200 gloves they had at home: “Someone else needs this more than we do,” Cleta Gingerich said.
In Worthington in southwestern Minnesota, Jay Milbrandt was trying to figure how Bedford Industries could help. The company makes twist-ties for bakeries, nose wire for N95 masks, and a product called the elastitag. After seeing a news clip about hospitals jury-rigging masks, Milbrandt, the company president, got together his team of engineers to figure how to shift production to make plastic face shields.
They came up with an idea — a longer version of their elastitag to hold together plastic face shields — and are trying to expedite FDA approval. But Milbrandt isn’t waiting. He hopes go into production this week. By next week, he hopes the company can produce 100,000 to 150,000 face shields per day.
“Assuming we can get the raw materials, we’re thinking we can do this pretty fast,” he said. “How can we not turn this machine on and start pumping these out? Everyone is doing everything they can, and this is what we can do.”
At North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, emergency room doctor Cameron Berg also has administrative roles at the hospital, said hospitals are using more personal protective equipment than ever before “by an order of magnitude.”
“And that has scaled across the planet, not just in America, not just in our regions,” he said.
The surge of patients hasn’t come — yet. But Berg said the equipment will keep coming from church mission groups who bought it for now-canceled trips, construction contractors and even preppers.
“The experience from other communities has been that tens of thousands of these things can turn up in near real time,” he said. “That will make a difference on health care delivery.”