Health care organizations, including Allina Health, are in need of additional masks to help meet ongoing health care needs and to help conserve existing personal protective equipment for providers engaged in the coronavirus (COVID-19) response.

Melissa Whitmer of Lonsdale is one local resident who began making masks for health care workers over the past couple of days.

“I have had many people reach out saying they want to help out but do not know how to sew,” said Whitmer. “People have donated money for supplies, fabric and elastic. It’s a great way to give back to those who need it right now.”

While Allina Health, which operates Owatonna and District One hospitals, is asking for donations of factory-made N95 and ear loop masks, it’s partnered with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota to announce a new community-based initiative to assist with the shortage. The initiative asks skilled volunteers throughout the state to sew CDC-approved reusable face masks that health workers can use as they treat patients. Instructions on how to make hand sewn masks can be viewed at allinahealth.org/coronavirus.

External Communications Advisor Tim Burke said Allina Health received over 7,000 masks to distribute at all locations since Sunday.

“We’re collecting now and the next two weeks, so we expect that number to increase dramatically,” said Burke on Monday. “We’ll just take whatever the public can find to give us or make by hand.”

Additionally, Allina Health welcomes notes of gratitude and encouragement that they will share in a safe manner with caregivers.

“Our communities are always looking for ways to help each other. We are so heartened by the response and are grateful for the public wanting to assist us in this critical hour,” said Helen Strike, COVID-19 System Incident Commander for Allina Health. “Individuals and organizations like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota have reached out to lend their support in big and small ways. BCBS is partnering with us and other providers by organizing a statewide network of volunteers to help sew masks.”

Masks can be safely donated daily from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Sunday, March 22 through April 5. Donations sites are at most Allina Health hospitals. Details on specific locations at each facility will be available on allinahealth.org.

Allina Health hospitals in southern Minnesota accepting donations are

• District One Hospital, 200 State Ave., Faribault

• New Ulm Medical Center, 1324 5th St. N, New Ulm

• Owatonna Hospital, 2250 NW 26th St., Owatonna

• Regina Hospital, 1175 Nininger Road, Hastings

• St. Francis Regional Medical Center, 1455 St. Francis Ave, Shakopee

When donating masks, remain in your car. A staff member will come to you to accept your donation.

Details on Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota’s volunteer drive effort can be found at https://blog.bluecrossmn.com/covid19masks

Reporter Misty Schwab contributed to this report.

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