Peggy Meder had some free time after she closed the medical spa she owns.

As a nurse who used to work in hospital settings, she was concerned about the spread of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. She closed last week, before the state mandated businesses like hers temporarily shutter.

Specifically, she worried about nurses who told her they were reusing disposable protective facial masks in the hospital. Under normal circumstances, workers discard a mask after one use.

“I was like, we have to do something,” she said.

Meder started experimenting with different materials. She wanted to create a mask that had a filter stronger than fabric alone.

She did some research and found her solution. Vacuum bags. 

“Is that perfect? Absolutely not,” Meder said. “But you got to take what you can take.”

Several other groups in Hampton Roads have emerged in recent days to make protective masks for nurses and other health care workers. Not everyone’s model includes a filter, which Meder says is key to ensure maximum protection.

Meder’s makeshift filters can slip into the vented fabric masks.

That’s helpful. Tricia Hardy, a spokesperson for Chesapeake Regional Hospital, said the hospital will “happily accept” fabric masks, but need them to be as thick as possible.

The region’s other hospital systems, including Riverside on the Peninsula, Sentara and Bon Secours are also currently accepting fabric mask donations.

Representatives from each system said they have adequate supplies for employees right now. All the hospitals anticipate a shortage as the COVID-19 outbreak grows.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homemade masks are a "last resort."  The CDC does not consider these masks PPE, or personal protective equipment. The agency recommends face coverings from home be used with a shield that covers the entire face.

Photo courtesy of Peggy Meder

Peggy Meder's medical face masks include a fabric covering and a replaceable filter made from a vacuum bag. She said it takes her about 10 minutes to sew one.

Since creating the first mask last week, Meder has donated 75 finished masks directly to working nurses. She’s accepted requests for other health care workers, like those who visit patients in their homes.

She’s willing to make masks for anyone who needs them, as long as they can pay for the supplies. She said she's spent $800 of her own money on masks.

“And if people can sew, that would be grand,” she said.

Meder has sewn most of her life, so it takes her 10 minutes to make a mask once the pieces are ready. Cutting the material out is the most tedious part, but she said people who can’t sew can easily prepare them.

She made an online guide showing how to cut the pieces and sew them to make a mask. She also created a Facebook group to coordinate resources.

“All we’re getting right now is bad news, and it’s about to get worse, so if we could just understand that we are really all in this together,” Meder said.

“We already have 300 people wanting to donate, and isn’t that fantastic? It’s hopeful, and that’s what we need right now more than anything.”