Dr. Steve Shaver delivers homemade fabric masks to retired operating room nurse Sharon McEwan to help protect the people in her building. The masks were generously sewn and donated by members of the local sewing community, including Annette Girardin and Evelyn Sorensen. They have set up a Facebook page called Comox Valley Masks Make A Difference.

Masks help stop the spread of COVID-19, says Comox Valley doctor

Local sewing community produces masks for seniors in an apartment

A local couple has been working with family and friends to sew masks for an apartment where many seniors live.

Dr. Steve Shaver and Barb Shaver started producing the masks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, and with the help of people they know, they made about 60 masks in a week.

“We’re trying to get going a bigger community thing,” Steve Shaver says.

The masks were sewn and donated by members of the local sewing community, including Annette Girardin and Evelyn Sorensen. The group has also set up a Facebook page called Comox Valley Masks Make A Difference for people to get more information.

As an opthamologist, Shaver knows the importance of masks when he performs surgery.

“Surgical masks protect the patient from me,” he says.

He and his wife were motivated to make masks after a friend who is a retired nurse mentioned about 70 of the residents in her building are seniors.

“They’re all being told to harbour in place,” he says.

The residents may, however, need to go out to shop or to the pharmacy, which are themselves places where people may be exposed. Even to get outside though, the residents need to use elevators or stairs, leaving them vulnerable to anyone else in the building who is sick or perhaps be carrying the virus but showing no symptoms. The idea is to give them masks for when they have to leave their apartments to reduce the spread of the virus, if someone is carrying it, in confined, shared spaces like elevators or stairwells.

“The project is to get those masks into that building,” he says. “If you get in an elevator, it’s so highly communicable.”

From the outset, he’s been on board with the idea of masks, despite some inconsistent or confusing messaging from some public health officials around the efficacy of masks at fighting the virus.

“It’s something that’s very basic, like handwashing,” he says. “I’ve been kind of a heretic since the beginning of this. I was like, everybody should be wearing masks.”

RELATED STORY: Valley residents stepping up to sew masks for those in need

The key is to get the N95 masks, meaning those with filters that stop the virus, in the hands of health professionals and people in the hospitals who need them. These masks reduce chances of exposure to the wearer as well as anyone in close contact with the wearer.

“Now, everybody knows what an N95 mask is,” he says.

What the masks the couple and their family and friends are making can do is reduce the chance of someone who is carrying the virus, perhaps unknowingly, from spreading it through the droplets they exhale. As Shaver puts it, “People need to understand my mask protects you; your mask protects me…. This is the harder thing for people to get their heads around, but if everybody wears a mask, we’re all protecting each other. It will decrease the rate of transmission in circumstances where you can’t social distance.”

RELATED STORY: B.C. health officer says homemade masks may prevent spread of COVID-19 to others

To back up his point, Shaver cites a recent decision from the Centers for Disease Control in the U.S. about having masks to avoid spread COVID-19. The CDC website even includes instructions on sew and no-sew masks for people to wear to keep them from passing on the virus. There are many sites on the Internet, Shaver adds, with information on how to make a mask easily.

The best ways to reduce spread, he adds, include the usual calls to wash hands thoroughly and regularly, respect social distancing guidelines and avoid touching one’s face, but in situations where people are in closer confines – whether it’s the grocery store or the halls or elevators of buildings, Shaver would like to see people ideally wearing double-layer masks to cut down the chance they are spreading the virus, especially when they do not know they have it. As well, the masks can help stop people from unconsciously touching the most vulnerable parts of their face.


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