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Pediatrician in Amherst sewing cotton surgical masks, urging others to help

Pediatrician in Amherst sewing cotton surgical masks, urging others to help

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An Amherst pediatrician, concerned over the critical shortage of surgical masks now worn by many people to help slow the spread of COVID-19, has taken matters into her own hands.

Dr. Martina Puzanov is making them – one by one – on her sewing machine with the help of her 12-year-old daughter, Veronika.

"Of course, it won’t keep the viruses in or out," she said.

“This is not an antiviral mask. It’s nowhere close, but at least it will provide some kind of barrier," said Puzanov. “If someone sneezes, or even talks, they involuntarily discharge small droplets. This mask prevents these droplets from traveling six feet.”

Puzanov, 53, and her husband, Dr. Igor Puzanov, 52, are from the Czech Republic and moved here in 2016 after working at hospitals in Dallas and Nashville, Tenn. Martina Puzanov, a pediatrician, stopped practicing medicine when they moved to East Amherst. Her husband serves as chief of melanoma and director of the Early Phase Clinical Trials Program at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Care Center.

“It’s a basic barrier, but better than not wearing anything and better than breathing into each other’s faces,” said Martina Puzanov. “So why not use the old-fashioned cotton recyclable masks, which were used by surgeons and people around the world before the microfiber era?"

The World Health Organization posted information for public use of masks on its website. It advises:

  • If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected COVID-19 infection.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning. Before putting on a mask, clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
  • Replace the mask with a new one as soon as it is damp and do not re-use single-use masks.

But, Martina Puzanov said of the masks she is making: "It would also be good to give them to people entering hospitals. The good thing about a cotton mask is that you can stick it in a boiling pot of water with some soap, sterilize it and reuse it.”

She communicates regularly with friends in Prague. People in many European countries are wearing some kind of facial cover, she said.

“They have the same shortage that we have here, I learned from a friend in Prague who is coordinating efforts there for a children’s hospital. The moms delivered 6,000 masks to the hospital,” she said.

"Other people still don't take this seriously, and they don’t cover themselves. I know that masks are not readily available,” Martina Puzanov said. “In South Korea pharmacies distribute two disposable masks to people each week.”

Factories in China, where COVID-19 was first reported, now make 200 million masks each day — more than twenty times the amount made at the start of February, according to a report on National Public Radio.

In Washington State, where the virus was first reported in the United States, administrative staff members of a Providence medical center volunteered to work an assembly line in a large conference room and made 500 masks, a Seattle news station reported.

Martina Puzanov asked craft stores and quilting clubs to help assemble volunteers to sew masks for use in hospitals and for public distribution. She already posted the pattern on the Nextdoor.com app and circulated it to as many neighborhoods as she could.

“We need to coordinate a serious effort for Roswell, because the patients there are among the most vulnerable. I can only do so much. I am willing to coordinate the collection and donations for Roswell, but all hospitals need them,” she said.

“You don’t have to wear masks when you go for nature walks, but it’s for everybody’s good if you wear it when you go shopping or if you must go somewhere where people congregate,” she said. “You should cover your mouth. It’s that simple.”

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