FLATHEAD RESERVATION — The Covid-19 has exposed the lack of critical healthcare preparedness and shortages of medical equipment needed to adequately address the virus pandemic. Among the critical pieces of lacking medical equipment is not only the high-tech equipment but also the low-tech face masks.
There are many grades of face masks but the ones used by medical personnel to treat patients with Covid-19 are the most advanced. However, there are others that fit the bill for public use for personal protection or for employees in critical positions that require them for work.
The masks, social distancing, shelter-in-place, and thoroughly washing hands are key steps people can take to prevent the spread of the virus. For those who venture out in public to accomplish basic needs such as food, the masks are a visual acknowledgement from the people wearing them that they are not only taking steps to protect their health but also the health of everyone they come in contact with. It is somewhat a manifestation of the social contract we, ideally should have with fellow citizens of America. That social contract has been becoming frayed and thread bare since the early-1980s but there are people who still understand the social responsibility of their relationship with their fellow citizens.
There are people on the Flathead Reservation that are answering the call of the needs of their fellow citizens by bridging the shortage of face masks, making them at home.
Cristen TwoTeeth and daughters, 17-year-old Sariel and soon to be 14-year-old Tirza, as well as Rene Kenmille, Allen Pierre, Veronica Matt, and Ashley Glass of ReCreate Designs are working together in a loosely knit conglomeration to manufacture face masks for a variety of tribal, non-tribal programs and the public.
“A lot of people have come together to address the needs for the masks. At home, we have set up an assembly line that has not only resulted in the masks but has showed the importance of team building to accomplish some things,” TwoTeeth said. “It keeps Sariel and Tirza busy. They are not in school so they have some time on their hands after on-line classes. Sariel has turned this into a class project that she’ll get graded on. They are good helpers.”
TwoTeeth said the mask making project had its genesis at Tribal Health where she works. She and some other THD staffers were making masks for THD staff due to the shortages. Then when the Tribal Council closed down operation of tribal programs and affiliated enterprises to all employees except essential staff TwoTeeth understood that there was still a need to make masks. As a result, she shifted the manufacturing to her home with the assistance of her daughters. The need was so great that the others came aboard to help meet the needs.
Tribal Health okayed the use of THD sewing machines at TwoTeeth’s residence, and the on-hand material. However, there was a shortage of the elastic needed for mask construction and it hampered output. “When we finally found a supplier of elastic, we bought a ton of it,” she said. THD will reimburse TwoTeeth for the materials purchased for the manufacturing of the face masks.
The group makes three types of face masks, related to usage needs, in four sizes. They are made with cotton and lined with fleece. One of the types includes an exchangeable filter.
“A lot of people need masks. We get big orders from the programs and small orders from people. As soon as we make them, they are out the door,” TwoTeeth said. “We keep track of the orders and get them to the people and programs who need them. We are especially concerned that the Elders get them. This virus is a huge threat to them. I would hate to see the loss of them, especially the fluent speakers. They are all so important to all of us.”
So far, the group has made more than 1,500 masks to various tribal programs, and non-tribal programs and entities including the St. Ignatius food pantry and the Arlee emergency medical services, and the public.