There’s an old proverb: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
When the national economy collapsed over concerns about the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, Dawn Twilley of Fort Payne was among the millions of small business owners left wondering how they would survive. When she heard about a local respiratory therapist who, according to Twilley, “said she had no protection whatsoever,” an idea came to mind about how her embroidery shop could answer that call.
The late tennis great Arthur Ashe once said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
Twilley did just that, going to work on a prototype re-useable face mask with a removable filter, made of two layers of cotton material and a layer of heavyweight embroidery stabilizer that she describes as being “like a heavy piece of felt.”
Her husband Scott is a paramedic, so their “first responder family” were among the first to get the masks as a solution for the shortage of protective gear.
Soon, the phone was ringing from local physicians. Then the University of Alabama at Birmingham reached out.
Twilley’s mother and father-in-law are helping turn out as many as 250 masks per day. The made-to-order masks come in different gender-specific colors. Once she runs out of the chevron and solid brown fabric she has on hand, the masks will be made from whatever remains.
The masks are available to the general public for $6 per face mask, with pickup available outside the shop door on First Street in downtown Fort Payne when they are ready. They can also be shipped.
Twilley prefers they be ordered via private message from her Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/blossom.shoppe.1, with an email address for Paypal invoicing.
Her face masks aren’t guaranteed to prevent catching the virus, but she knows first-hand that the shortage is so severe that healthcare providers are resorting to using scarves to offer at least some type of respiratory protection.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not consider even the surgical masks worn by doctors capable of providing complete protection from germs because the edges are loose-fitting. They are not meant to be used more than once.
U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams is begging the public to stop hording surgical masks that healthcare professionals – who are at the highest risk for disease transmission -- need to do their jobs.
Dr. Scott Harris, Alabama’s state health officer, said during a Tuesday conference call that he recommends medical professionals only use approved masks and the public should “beware a false sense of security, but we hate to discourage the public from doing something to help.”
Rather than masks, the CDC recommends everyday preventive actions, such as hand washing, for the general public to help prevent the spread.
Twilley’s masks give the public a “better than nothing” alternative that doesn’t deprive the professionals of the masks that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Her masks allow users to breathe filtered air, potentially repelling some of the respiratory droplets that spread the virus. The coronavirus can be spread by other means, however, which is why washing hands frequently and maintaining social distancing remains essential.
Twilley has taken criticism for charging $6 for the masks, but she has donated a large number of them to actual medical professionals and the charge to others is necessary to cover the cost of materials used and to allow her shop to remain open.
“I keep getting ugly messages and not-so-polite comments… It absolutely breaks my heart,” she wrote on her Facebook. “I have tried my best over the years to fill any need seen or unseen. I do not need fanfare or acclaim. I need a way to put food in my family's mouth. This is that way. I appreciate every single penny spent in our shop. Truly, it is God-sent.”
While she has found a product that is suddenly greatly in demand, it’s a mistake to think she’s getting rich off the fear a pandemic creates. “At night, I walk the floors praying, uncertain of our future,” Twilley wrote.
Similar face masks are selling for upwards of $15 each online. Twilley stressed that her masks are not intended for resale, and “if I find they are being resold, [buyers] will not be able to purchase any additional masks from this shop. I’m not trying to get rich off of this pandemic -- just trying to fill a need.”
Twilley said she has wept with fellow business owners who have closed until further notice.
“This is my beloved town. These are my friends, my customers, my people. They are hurting. They are scared. I am scared. Every time my heart becomes overwhelmed, I cry out to God. Reading Psalm 91 helps,” she said.
“Please pray for our community. And whatever you can do to help support our local businesses, please do. Gift certificates are available. Go ahead and get one for that massage, pay a deposit on that photo shoot and do whatever you can to help these families ease the burden. We are truly all in this together.” Twilley said.