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Two Gorge Quilters and Scott McKay, director of the Mid-Columbia Senior Center in The Dalles, are pictured — standing six feet apart — with masks the quilting group is making and distributing to Meals on Wheels drivers and others.

Local doctors are supporting the Hood River County Health Department by conducting donation drop-offs three times a week for masks, gowns, and other protective gear used in the medical and first response fields.

Dr. Christopher Van Tilburg, county health officer, is overseeing the stockpiling and distribution of PPEs, to relieve a Gorge-wide shortage in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and rising demand for PPE.

“Currently, our supplies are running low and we are asking for help from the community with PPE donations,” said Dr. Christopher Swisher, a Hood River pediatric dentist. “These donations will help protect our first responders. We are looking for any PPE equipment, but are specifically short of masks, gowns, and gloves. Respirators and N95 masks are the most protective masks for first responders.”

The program is accepting used and new masks and other equipment Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 1-2 p.m., until further notice at the Hood River County building, on Sixth and State, in downtown Hood River.

PPE donations days start March 27 at the Hood River County building. Donations will be accepted on the exterior of the building to limit exposure indoors and practice safe distancing.

“The community has really stepped up and the Health Department is trying to implement this in the most efficient way possible,” Van Tilburg said. “We’re reserving all these PPE (donated) for health care providers and first responders. The Health Department has done a couple of rounds of PPE distribution. Community distribution will go into the next round of distribution, which will be next week,” he said Thursday.

Organizers are also reaching out to industries to donate gear.

Makers, funders step up

In addition to the donation effort, what amounts to a three-part rallying of forces to create new PPE is underway in the Gorge, under the aegis of Van Tilburg and Hood River County Health.

Gorge Makers Collective is a newly-formed volunteer group formed due to a shortage of medical masks during the COVID-19 crisis, for creating specially-designed cloth masks for health care providers and other seeking facial protection. A group of local residents have banded together to create the masks and to form teams of cutters and sewers. The home of Kirk and Cherie Zack is pickup point for materials. For details see the group’s Facebook page.

“We are making masks for two purposes,” said co-organizer Shelley Toon Lindberg: “Immediate use by those in high person to person contact occupations and to create an emergency stockpile of masks for medical professionals to be distributed if the necessity arises.” The pattern was designed by Holly Higdon-Wood, with advice from experienced medical professionals and skilled seamstresses who tested the pattern One workshop has been transformed into a factory for plastic wrap-around facial shields. Gowns, meanwhile, are being made at a variety of locations out of materials not originally designed for medical purposes. Several local garment and gear makers are collaborating on a new gown design, in a program spearheaded by Providence emergency medicine physician Ryan Brevard, and Maui Meyer of Hood River. Brevard, who serves on the Providence Hospital Foundation Board, facilitated an emergency fund donation by the Foundation this week to support the project, and Meyer is working with a long list of underwriters. The goal is to create enough gowns, and masks and shields, to meet the needs of providers in the Gorge — hospitals, first responders and others who engage in public interface and want more protection.

‘Really significant risk’

Van Tilburg is coordinating the stockpiling, inspection, and distribution of all materials. While homemade medical gowns are acceptable to donate, Dr. Neal Douglas of Heritage Family Medicine advises against donating homemade protective masks, as most tend to be ineffective. He does encourage donations of face shields, or any form of eye protection that seals around the eyes — Douglas himself is currently using a snorkel mask when he performs drive-thru COVID-19 tests for his patients. “You just have to make do with what you’ve got,” he said, “that’s kind of the way I’m approaching this, you do the best you can with what you’ve got.”

Because repeated potential exposure to the novel coronavirus increases the risk of contracting it, “All of us healthcare workers are taking a really significant risk,” Douglas said. “That’s why healthcare workers running out of PPE is a disaster.”

Swisher said, “We will collect, sort, and catalog the cache. The County Health Department will receive requests from direct communication with all the Gorge hospitals and distribution will be based on need, not size of hospital. Currently, there is strong collaboration between the hospitals.”Hood River County

Health Department currently organizes a weekly call with approximately 50 healthcare professionals in the valley to talk through different problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic, discussing possible solutions and ways to pool resources. “Behind the scenes, there is a ton of work going on to protect our community,” Douglas said. “The doctors in the community are banding together to try and come up with solutions.”

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