Project Protect is Enlisting Utahns to Make Medical-Grade Masks

(April 17, 2020) – Dozens of Utah organizations are teaming up to ensure those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic have the protection they need to be as safe as possible.

ProjectProtect is a grassroots collaboration between Intermountain Healthcare, the University of Utah Health, Latter-day Saint Charities, and several Utah nonprofits are leading the effort. And they’re looking for volunteers.

The goal is to engage 10,000 volunteer sewers each week to produce more than five million medical-grade face masks that will be distributed to frontline health workers at two Salt Lake City-based health systems.

It’s being called the largest Utah-based volunteer effort since the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

ProjectProtectis also helping to produce reusable isolation gowns and more than 50,000 face shields, which are already being deployed to frontline caregivers for use while caring for patients.

Latter-day Saint Charities has worked with healthcare experts to create educational content and instructions for sewing the masks, while the Relief Society organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has tapped into its network of thousands of volunteers from around the world. 

“Four weeks ago, I got a call from a University of Utah doctor asking if we might consider sewing medical masks to address a looming shortage in the hospitals,” said Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency. “From that initial call, an important partnership was born. This team, from multiple organizations and a variety of professions, has moved mountains to make ProjectProtect possible. If such a feat is possible anywhere in the world, it’s here in Utah. We’re so happy to be a part of this community effort!” 

ProjectProtect will enlist an estimated total of more than 50,000 volunteers to sew clinical face masks in their homes — and more volunteers are invited to take part.

Details about what volunteers will be asked to do:

– They need the ability to follow detailed instructions and use a sewing machine.

– They need a sewing machine, thread, scissors, and pins. Material and instructions will be provided.

– Each volunteer will be asked to make 100 masks. Depending on the sewer’s level of experience, each mask will take five to 10 minutes to sew.

– Volunteers should expect to spend 10 to 15 hours sewing, plus they’ll need to pick up the materials and drop off the finished masks.

Since the idea for the ProjectProtect collaboration surfaced last month, experts from the three organizations – who work in services including supply chains, infectious diseases, operations, instructional design, and communications – have had daily meetings to work through the details.

When the polypropylene fabric, which is required to make the medical-grade masks, and had to be ordered from China, cleared customs in Los Angeles, the project kicked into high gear.

“We’ve seen heart-wrenching stories of healthcare workers all over the world who are caring for COVID-19 patients without the protection they need and deserve,” said Tad Morley, vice president of outreach and network development at University of Utah Health. “We realized our regular supply chain couldn’t handle the demand and we didn’t want our frontline staff to face that same situation. So, we tapped into the resources that are based in the community to make sure they were protected.”

Dan Liljenquist, senior vice president and chief strategy officer at Intermountain Healthcare, worked closely with Morley at U Health and Eubank at Latter-day Saint Charities, to help put the pieces together to get the grass-roots initiative off the ground.  

ProjectProtect is an unprecedented community collaboration in response to a once-in-a-generation pandemic, and it represents the dedicated work of dozens of professionals and hundreds, soon to be thousands, of volunteers,” said Liljenquist. “The principles of industry, volunteerism, and self-reliance run deep in Utah, and this initiative to locally manufacture personal protective equipment for frontline caregivers is a great example of that desire to help.”

To learn more about the ProjectProtect initiative and to volunteer to sew masks, visit Select the project location nearest you and register. You’ll receive an email confirmation with instructions. A printed copy of the confirmation email is necessary to pick up your materials kit.

“We invite all who are able and willing to sew medical grade masks to join us as we work together to ensure that caregivers battling COVID-19 have the equipment they need to stay safe,” says Liljenquist. “Your personal contributions to this effort will help save lives.”