Fabric shop, printing company team up to make face shields

Two very different local businesses are teaming up to make potentially lifesaving masks and face shields to protect first responders and others on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight.

“We want this on the front lines,” said Carmen Wilson. “We want this in the E.R. We want this for that person who has their face right in front of a COVID-19 patient.”

Wilson owns Gigi’s Fabric Shop in Brandon. She and other volunteers are making face masks from the blue material used to cover surgical instruments in operating rooms.

RELATED: Make your own mask with fabric, household items

Doctors at the University of Florida say masks made from the fabric, known as Halyard 600, may be the next best thing to N-95 masks which are in short supply.

Wilson began making the Halyard masks recently, although she’s been making thousands of cotton masks with the help of volunteers who have come together in the Facebook group Mask Makers of Tampa Bay.

“My wife happened to see it and she said, ‘Alex you have to do something to help these folks out,’” explained Alex Prieto of New Age Reprographics, which produces blueprints and signs.

He learned that Wilson was trying to make clear plastic face shields to be used with her masks. Prieto had the materials and staff to make them.

“Four hours later he had 200 face shields,” Wilson said. “The next day I had 400. We just kept going.”

Hundreds of volunteers have joined Wilson. Many of them are sewing together cotton masks that are being given to people in doctor’s offices and cashiers.

The Halyard masks are reserved to give to people on the front lines like paramedics and emergency room personnel. Wilson is asking people to donate the blue emergency room Halyard cloth that’s often thrown away.

“If we can tell all the general public to tell the surgeons and doctors to grab these and recycle them with us we can make a difference,” said Wilson.

Nobody expected people at a fabric store and a blueprint business could be making a difference in the COVID-19 fight. “There’s an extreme excitement being able to help,” says Prieto.

If you’re a first responder or healthcare worker who needs a mask, or you would like to volunteer sewing masks, visit Mask Makers of Tampa Bay on Facebook.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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