Since the pandemic has arrived, many have taken to their sewing machines to make masks for family, friends and neighbors to ensure everyone’s safe from the novel coronavirus.

Locally, some residents of Kenyon and surrounding areas, may have come across masks made by local mask-makers, like Julie Buchwald Haley.

Buchwald Haley began making masks in mid-March when the need first came up. Since getting laid off from her job in January, she’d been job hunting, and when the pandemic hit, she realized she needed to find something to keep busy. Sewing masks would keep her hands busy and keep her mind quiet. She tried several different patterns until she picked one, the Allina Health Care-suggested pattern, which she thought worked really well. Initially, she imagined herself donating the masks to health care workers, so Allina’s preferred pattern seemed like the logical option. Buchwald Haley says she’s also watched several YouTube videos and learned new sewing techniques.

Since she began making masks for those in need several months ago, Buchwald Haley calculates she’s made about 475 masks. Before the pandemic, Buchwald Haley kept busy with a lot of volunteer work, so making masks for others was a way for her to extend her passion for volunteering, while her in-person volunteering opportunities were put on hold.

Through photos or in person, members of the Concerned Citizens of Kenyon Facebook page and/or those living in the Kenyon community, may have noticed a plastic container full of masks at the end of her sidewalk, next to a sign saying, “Free Masks.” Ever-so-frequently, she places the masks at the end of her sidewalk, allowing anybody to have access to masks. Buchwald Haley says she wanted to make sure that people who needed masks or wanted them didn’t have to worry about spending money they may not have had.

“The most important thing for me is that people wear them, not about making money,” said Buchwald Haley.

She also gratefully accepts donations — money, fabric and thread — which have all been very helpful. In terms of fabric donations, Buchwald Haley says she is pretty open to what types of fabric she will take, since thinner fabrics can be layered if needed. Northfield’s face mask depot, where people donate supplies, also has a surgical mask fabric available that she can use if needed.

So far, she’s donated masks to the Kenyon Senior Living and Kenyon Pool lifeguards and mailed them out to people in Rochester and other places in Minnesota. Since she grew up in Northfield, she’s got strong Northfield connections, so she’s also given masks to those working at places such as the Northfield Hospital, Faribault Hospital, Laura Baker School and Northfield Retirement Center.

Kenyon resident Darlene Van de Loo also has done her best to make sure her family and friends are safe. Van de Loo, who travels to Arizona during the winter months with her husband Randy and their dog, began sewing with a group of ladies at their park in Arizona. The park set aside rooms for the group to store their sewing machines and other supplies in. Besides mask making, Van de Loo said the group also sewed blankets and quilts, adding that there is a lot of service-oriented opportunities available there.

When COVID-19 made its way into the Grand Canyon state, a majority of the group had just finished their work for the season, leaving them plenty of time to make masks for people in the park. After Van de Loo and her family moved back to Kenyon and quarantined for 14 days, all they had for face coverings were buffs — a tube of lightweight, stretchy material great for filtering out the ultra fine desert dust. This led Van de Loo with the idea to make some masks for herself and find a design that allows her to wear the mask without fogging up her glasses.

Neighbors helping neighbors

Goodhue County Health and Human Services says with COVID-19 infection rates on the rise locally, it’s important that as a community, everyone does everything they can to keep residents and visitors safe from the COVID-19 virus.

“Our small towns here in Goodhue County are not immune. When looking at lab confirmed positive COVID-19 cases per capita in Goodhue County, we see that towns such as Cannon Falls, Kenyon and Welch have been most affected by COVID-19,” according Goodhue County Health and Human Services. “This information is only of lab confirmed positive cases. There are community members who are positive who are without symptoms and other who may be far from testing sites and choose to manage symptoms on their own, who are not accounted for in those numbers.”

As of Monday, 142 Goodhue County residents had confirmed cases of the coronavirus, eight people died from complications of COVID-19. In neighboring Rice County, there are 892 confirmed cases and eight deaths, Steel County has had 250 cases and one death, Dakota County 2,753 cases and 96 deaths. There have been 1,302 cases in Olmsted County with 20 deaths.

As chair of the Christmas in Kenyon celebration, Buchwald Haley compared the importance of wearing masks to the Christmas from Kenyon addition to last year’s celebration, where they collected coats, food and other necessities to help others out.

“It’s neighbors helping neighbors,” said Buchwald Haley. “This falls into that category, help your neighbor, help your family, and make sure they don’t get [COVID-19].

Van de Loo finds wearing masks important, especially as a way to be considerate of other people, since some can carry the virus and pass it onto others in public places without even knowing it. When she travels to the cities for her weekly Bible study with friends, the building where the Bible study is held requires masks while walking to and from each person’s destination, and bigger towns such as Mankato, Rochester and Northfield have made it mandatory in public places.

“It’s just a courtesy thing and it’s something I suspect is going to be part of our future, I’m not saying for a short period of time,” said Van de Loo of the importance of wearing masks. “I’m applauding all these people making masks for others. If we start at home by taking care of our families and work our way outward, it does spread quickly, and not like germs — it spreads kindness.”

Buchwald Haley, too, finds wearing masks to be “critically” important for reducing the number of COIVD-19 cases.

“By wearing them, we’re making sure others aren’t getting sick and spreading it unintentionally,” said Buchwald Haley. “…countries around the world that flattened the curve are those that are wearing them 99% of the time, it’s so clear it makes all the difference…be safe and mask up.”

Slowing the spread of COVID-19

Goodhue County Health and Human Services says its important everyone does what they can to slow the spread of COVID-19 so that the local communities are able to keep its businesses open and continuing to support the local communities.

“We want our local businesses to thrive and to minimize possible future re-closings,” said county health officials. “By engaging in safe practices, such as wearing a mask to protect others, it will help us to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep our small towns open and thriving.”

As the Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Department of Health along with others work toward a decision for classes for the 2020-21 school year, county officials say they are monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and will use that information to determine its recommendations.

Reach reporter Michelle Vlasak at 507-333-3128 or follow her on Twitter @apgmichelle. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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