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Science and Innovations

Volunteers Sew Isolation Gowns For Local Hospitals Out Of House Wrap

Flagstaff Community PPE Production Volunteers

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic Flagstaff Medical Center and other northern Arizona hospitals report shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE… especially isolation gowns. Community members in Flagstaff stepped up with a creative solution. A group of volunteers sewed hundreds of gowns out of Tyvek house wrap. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke to retired schoolteacher Debbie McMohan about the project.

Melissa Sevigny: Tell me how you got involved with this project.

Debbie McMohan: I was asked by a friend… could I help organize a group to sew the PPE gowns for FMC? And I said sure, I can do that, I can contact people and get it rolling. Little did I know it was going to turn into such a huge project! She had researched about Tyvex… and it’s a water resistant barrier and an air barrier material, so it was safe for the hospitals to use. It’s a home construction material that goes around the house after they put insulation in to secure a barrier. It is washable, that’s why we decided to use it. We’re hoping they could get at least five uses out of it, wash it five times and use it. So far I think that’s held up pretty good.

Credit Debbie McMohan
A completed isolation gown

So you gathered this group of volunteers together and met at Sinagua Middle School for about a week doing this?

Yeah, about a week and half. We had over 250 volunteers….and we all followed CDC protocol, we wore masks, we wore gloves, I had hand sanitizer there, I had lotion there, we had soap in the bathrooms, so we were all very safe… We had so many people in the community come together. I called Odegaard’s sewing and left a message for the owner Charlie Odegaard and asked if he could help us with supplies, and he called me the next day and said “Yes, what do you need?” And then JOANN’s Sewing Center here in Flag, they were so gracious and donated so much, they donated elastic and thread and Velcro. JOANN’s even lent us three sewing machines to work on while we were in Sinagua. Scissors, everything you need to get this going…. It warms my heart so much to see how this community came together to help out.

How many gowns did you make?

We made about 1200. Flagstaff Medical got the majority of them. We had a bunch of Tyvek that had been donated from construction companies around Flagstaff, so we helped out other people. I had an ER doctor call me from Hopi and they didn’t have any protective stuff, they didn’t have any PPE anything, so we said, we can make you some gowns and you can pick them up. And Kayenta called us and said we are desperate, do you have any for us? We had more Tyvek left over from the donation, we said sure… We’ll probably get about 100 to Hopi and 100 to Kayenta.  

What for you has been the most rewarding part of working on this project?

Well, I’ve made a lot of new friends! … One thing that helps so much, one of the doctors at the hospital came and told us, she said, what you are doing for the hospital has raised the spirits of the nurses and the doctors and the health care professionals there by 200 percent. They feel like the community does care. So that was real important to us.

Debbie McMohan, I really appreciate your time today, thank you.

Thank you, Melissa.

You can learn more about this effort at the website:

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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