Northlanders making reusable masks for medical professionals

Emily Ness
Updated: March 22, 2020 10:48 PM

With cases of COVID-19 breaking out across the globe, demand for medical masks is far outpacing manufacturer’s ability to make them, leading to a shortage. In an effort to aid medical professionals, many have begun making masks of their own—including a group of Northlanders with a passion for sewing.


Janet Anelli, owner of Hannah Johnson Fabrics said it all began when she received a call from a customer who saw a group of women making reusable masks on Good Morning America.

“I found it online and thought this might be a good thing,” Anelli said.

Following this phone call, Anelli reached out to St. Luke's and Essentia Health to ask if this would be something they’d be interested in. Both said yes.

“Our healthcare systems are working together and collaborating. We have inventories so we know who needs what and share among us,” Catherine Carter Huber, Executive Director of St. Luke’s Foundation said. “We do have a shortage and this is a nationwide challenge so people are very creative in coming together on how to resolve it.”

According to Dr. Andrea Boehland from Essentia Health, the mask does not protect the wearer from the coronavirus, but it does protect others should the wearer cough or sneeze.

“One problem is that patients who come to the emergency department say with a broken ankle or some non-respiratory complaint might actually already be contagious and so the idea is that we certainly don’t have enough regular hospital grade masks to put on those patients, but if we use a mask like this on those patients, we can help prevent spread around the emergency department,” Boehland said.

Dr. Steven Hansen from St. Luke's said that while these masks are not a perfect solution, they are helpful.

“We need to get a lot more masks across the country and I know those efforts are ongoing,” Hansen said.

Currently, Hannah Johnson Fabrics is selling kits so that the public can help with their efforts.

“The kit will come with two different types of patterns. One of them was made by Dr. Boehland’s mother here in Duluth. It is what the hospitals are really looking for,” Megan Spitzley, employee at Hannah Johnson Fabrics said.

The kit is $6 and comes with a half yard of fabric that can be used to make three adult masks.

“We are waiting to get a children’s version. Once we get that, we will put that up on our Facebook as well,” Spitzley said.

For the individuals making the masks themselves, they say it is fun and worthwhile.

“Handmaid things—everyone appreciates them,” Marcia Opien, Sewing Instructor said. “Sewers are a generous group.”

Additionally, they say it is a good way to stay positive and occupied during a somewhat chaotic time.

“This keeps your mind off of the anxiety of what’s happening, it’s a therapy like that too so that helps,” Opien said.

The masks will be given to hospitals around the Northland including St. Luke's And Essentia Health. Those who would like to donate masks can do so at Hannah Johnson Fabrics.or at Building A of St. Luke's.


Emily Ness

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