April 15, 2020
Contact: Pate McCuien, 573-882-4870, mccuienp@missouri.edu

As COVID-19 continues to spread, face masks are becoming more difficult to find, and health systems are turning to community members for help to make sure they have masks for as long as the outbreak lasts. That includes MU Health Care. The University is joining the effort and making mask kits that will be made into masks for the health system to use.

MU Health Care workers gathered supplies to assemble kits so community members could help make masks. However, the team at MU Health Care soon discovered the needed more helpers to cut the fabric for the kits, so they turned to Professor Pamela Norum, chair of MU’s Department of Textiles and Apparel Management, for help.

“They needed help getting fabric pieces cut,” Norum said. “I told them that we have an apparel lab, and it has large tables that are 4 feet wide and 20 feet long that we could certainly roll out fabric on for cutting as well as a laser cutter that could cut 240 pieces in ten minutes.”

This is a picture of a laser cutter.

The team of volunteers used a laser cutter to cut most of the pieces of fabric.

Norum eventually received permission from Provost Latha Ramchand to allow faculty and graduate students from the department to volunteer to cut the fabric. After more than 35,000 pieces of fabric were cut by the department, MU Health Care then used the fabric to create mask kits, which were then distributed to volunteers willing to sew masks at home. This new process allowed for streamlined efficiency and safe social distancing.

However, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 the Department of Textile and Apparel Management put in place strict safety precautions. The department limited the number of people allowed in the lab, but volunteers could also cut the fabrics from home if they wanted. Norum said the lab was large enough that volunteers were able to practice social distancing while still working on the masks. MU Health Care provided the volunteers with gloves, sanitizer and disinfectant.

MU student Nicolette Leiby volunteered to cut some of the fabric for the kits. She is a first-year graduate student hoping to receive a doctorate after graduating with her master’s degree in textile and apparel management. She said she volunteered because she wants to use her skills to help.

“I’m glad that we’re able to use our facilities and our talents and our passions because we’re all, in this department, very passionate about apparel and textiles,” Leiby said. “We’re able to use all of that and give back to the health care community.”

The Department of Textile and Apparel Management has been involved with a few community social projects before, but Norum said that their students have never had the opportunity to help out with a project like this.

Once the fabric was cut, it was stacked and prepared for MU Health to place into mask-making kits.

"We’ve never been involved with anything like this where an immediate and quickly organized action had to take place to get things moving along,” Norum said. “I’ve been very impressed with how we have been able to quickly get all of the logistics in place. It’s come together in just a couple of days.”

MU Health Care project organizer Heather Lockard is also impressed. She says that the community has been a great help in the fight against COVID-19.

“We are overwhelmed and touched by the community’s support and desire to help during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Heather Lockard. “We greatly appreciate these students and their professors dedicating their time to help us.”

For more information on how to support MU Health Care’s fight against COVID-19, visit muhealth.org/covid19relief

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