They aren't on the front lines, but suburban crafters have found a sense of purpose during the COVID-19 pandemic by sewing masks for health care workers and others.
Stitching cotton material and attaching elastic bands, resourceful crafters are operating makeshift supply chains and delivery systems to produce thousands of masks at home.
The seamstresses understand they aren't producing approved equipment, and health officials are quick to note the homemade masks are not considered Personal Protective Equipment capable of blocking COVID-19.
Even the masks' ability to add a layer of protection is untested and unknown, according to health officials speaking via the Lake County Joint Information Center.
But for those furiously toiling to keep their nervous energy down and contribute in some way, they are filling a requested need for hospitals, emergency rooms, maternity wards, nursing homes, paramedics and even veterinary clinics, where supplies are short because of demands caused by the new coronavirus.
"I think we're over 1,000 (masks made), but I don't have time to sit down and figure it out," said Anna Haley Fielder, an Antioch resident, stay-at-home mom and avid sewer.
Fielder said she began getting requests for masks last Friday. After launching a Facebook group for fellow sewers, she's now coordinating a "Mask Brigade" of more than 20 others using donated materials. She said her brother on Tuesday was headed to pick up 350 yards of donated elastic to help the cause.
"Hospitals are saying, 'We'll take as many as you can make,'" she said. "It's just dire. People are desperate for any type of protection."
Fielder says she has heard stories of health care workers using T-shirts and other materials as makeshift protective barriers. She said some of her masks are being worn over "dirty" approved devices as an added barrier to theoretically prolong the life of the devices.
According to the Lake County Joint Information Center, which is mobilized in emergencies, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that health care personnel treating suspected COVID-19 patients wear a certified N95 respirator, which filters at least 95% of very small particles.
Patients with suspected COVID-19 should wear a loosefitting face mask to provide barrier-only protection against droplets until they are isolated in a hospital or at home. The mask isn't needed once the patient is isolated.
"The problem is, they're going to be out of (masks) soon," said Jill Blackman-Cannon, an Antioch resident who has been coordinating with Fielder and recruited the senior Caboose Park Sewing Board.
In Arlington Heights, Linda Zachman has operated Linda Z's Sewing Center for 53 years and is well-connected in the industry and well-known online to crafters.
She said she has been contacted by the University of Chicago and some nursing homes, and has sent out about 1,000 masks the past week. The need isn't just in Illinois, she said.
"We have hundreds of women in their homes making them. The response has just been unbelievable," Zachman said.
The masks take about 10 minutes to assemble, and there are many patterns available.
"It's something," said Fielder. "The sewers feel good and the recipients are eternally grateful."