Host:

Hello, and welcome to the podcast. In the coming weeks, we'll be learning more about coronavirus, not just about the virus itself, but of the response to the global pandemic that has shut down cities, forced people into their homes, and started a race to find effective treatments and therapeutics. In this week's episode, we'll be talking to Elizabeth Shorrock, a visiting assistant professor of fashion, dress, and merchandising at West Virginia University's Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design. As the coronavirus hit the United States, she led the effort to create 10,000 masks for healthcare providers and others in Morgantown and surrounding areas. Like many other professors, Elizabeth Shorrock was preparing for business as usual during the 2020 spring semester. She's a visiting assistant professor of fashion, dress, and merchandising at WVU's College of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Design, but as coronavirus crept closer to West Virginia and the university announced the move to online instruction, Shorrock's husband Peter suggested that she put her skills to use.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

So it was actually my husband. He was watching the news. This was early on, I think right when school was, we made the decision to not come back. And he said to me, "You need to start making masks," because we were in business together for a long time. We did production. We produced our own line. I know how to do production. It's always been kind of my thing. And so I just started thinking about how I could engage a couple of students. We could just start pumping out some masks. I also know that we had quite a large donation of a hundred percent cotton quilting fabric in the studio, and I thought that would be the perfect ... So I started doing research. What is the best fabric? What are the best patterns? What's the best way to actually put together a mask?

Host:

Shorrock reached out to university officials and asked for permission to use the studio for mask production, as well as permission for several students to accompany her into the studio. But once she was given the green light, she ran into another issue.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

We didn't have elastic. So I know that we have an alum who's in the wholesale textile industry, Amy Bircher, and I reached out to her and she had the elastic, because elastic was really hard to find at that point, because everybody started making masks. And she happened to have 10,000 feet of this elastic, which she sent us. We paid for it, and she sent it to us.

Host:

Shorrock and her five student team, Will Whittaker, Samantha Hale, Hannah Spore, Morgan Witmer, and Brooke Reed, set up their production line to churn out as many masks as they could for those that needed them.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

Well, we have five industrial machines at the moment. The studio is sort of, we run a lot of different classes in the studios, so the machines are sort of up against the wall, and they were a pretty tight fit because of students being in and doing other things. So the first thing we did was we actually pushed all the machines to at least six feet apart. They're probably more like eight feet apart. And there were five of us working on each industrial machine. So we were just sort of all in a line up against the wall. And this is like a real production facility, and the industrial machines are great because the tabletop, it sits flush instead of like a home sewing machine sits up higher on the table, sits on top of the table. So the machine itself sits in the table, and it just makes it, it's streamlined. It just makes it a lot faster to actually produce.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

And so I had four students that were sewing, and I had one student who was a merchandising student, who can sew on the industrial equipment because she took my class, but ended up doing most of the cutting and prepping. And so we had this little assembly line set up. All of the students would do one part of it over and over and over again, get up, get a bundle of like 50 to 100, and then do the next step or pass it on to another student who maybe enjoyed doing the pleating, or then ... So we put bread ties in the nose. So that was the first step, which I got Kroger to donate the bread ties. We put four of them in the bridge, so you can pinch it and make it a tight fit. This is one of the things that the doctors really liked about our masks, because they resembled a surgical mask the most.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

So I had one student that he loved doing that, so that was kind of his thing. But we just, we listened to podcasts and we just sewed the whole time we were there together. It was actually kind of fun.

Host:

Word quickly spread about their efforts, especially after a local media interview. The project then took on a life of its own.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

And so this girl who was interviewing me said, "So, what's your plan? How many masks do you think you're going to make?" And I said, "Well, we have enough elastic for 10,000 masks." It kind of became the 10,000 mask project. I didn't intend on doing that, but I'll tell you, we are over 5,000 right now. So we might make that goal.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

But anyway, we started with the fabric in the studio, the donated fabric, and we were washing everything so it was pre-shrunk. Once this little article went out, I got people emailing me, saying how can I help? So we started putting together kits of precut and little instructions, and sort of bundling them up and having them ready right at the door, so no one even had to come into the studio, and sort of farmed out a lot to local stitchers.

Host:

After the article came out, Shorrock said she received emails every day from local stitchers, asking how they could help. Some didn't even have fabric. Some didn't have elastic. Shorrock and her team prepped sewing kits to help them get involved.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

Quite a few people in the community, and the WVU and the Morgantown community at large, would come in and pick up materials and then come back like in a week and drop them off. And then United Way would come probably once a week and pick up the fabric masks and distribute them to local places that they knew needed them.

Host:

Getting masks to those who needed them was on the forefront of Shorrock's mind. But she also wanted to craft the best design for them. Gene Cilento, who heads the Innovation Hub at WVU, read about Shorrock's efforts and let her know that they were experimenting with different types of material for mask filtration.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

And he read the article, and they were working on making masks. They were like doing some experimentation with the filtration, getting the best possible material. They were experimenting with vacuum cleaner bags, and they started working with the surgical wrap. And so they were testing the material, but they did not want to make the masks, because they are not trained as industrial sewers by any means. So they contacted me, and gave me some of the material to play around with. I made a couple of samples, and then they tested the material. We found out the best weight to work with, through donations from the hospital. And we're constantly making samples, having them tested for the filtration. But then also, we'd send them along to the doctors and the nurses at the hospital, and they would actually do a wear test. And after about two weeks, we came up with what we thought were the best two sizes, and then just started production from there.

Host:

The surgical wraps were then supplied to WVU Medicine, Mon General, and the Mon County Health Department.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

Well, we know that we've done over, I'm going to guess we're probably about 5,500 right now. So we pretty much at one point ended all of the cloth masks. So we are about 4,500 in terms of the surgical mask, around there. I mean, these are just estimates, but we've made a lot. We're offering them to anybody who needs them, as long as we can still be making them. And I don't know how much longer we're going to be able to do that. My students are I guess considered work study, so they're getting paid, but I don't know if there's money in the budget to continue doing that this summer. But we have a lot cut and prepped, so I really want to at least finish what we have.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

But no, we're, I mean, I feel like we need to provide the service to anybody who needs it. I mean, it's definitely still a health issue, a health risk. So if this is like a great form of protection, I think that we should just continue making them, as long as people still need them.

Host:

For Shorrock and her students, the experience was one they'll never forget.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

It was really gratifying, that at a time like this, when most of us had to just stay home and sort of weather the storm, sort of, I mean, yes, do our online teaching, but kind of hunker down and stay in and not really contribute in a positive way, I feel so happy that I was able to actually get up and go to work every day and do something. I think for my own mental health, it was really important to be able to, because I definitely am somebody who needs to be active, doing something, and to be able to do something for the greater good, I mean, we were all in agreement. All of my students were like, this is amazing.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

And we saw it on a weekly basis, because the guy who came from Ruby Hospital would bring us lunch, randomly would come by and just give us some money and say, "Okay, lunch is on me today," or actually order pizza for us. There were the facilities guys on campus, who said, "We thought something weird was going on in here, because nobody else was working." And then when they saw that we were making masks, they brought us lunch. So we know that we were being appreciated, and that just felt really good. It really did. I'm very, very happy that I've been able to contribute.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

One of the first emails we got was from a doctor who said, "You have no idea what this means to me and my family, that I wouldn't be comfortable coming to work every day if I knew I didn't have this extra layer of protection." I mean, which was incredible to us, because it's the hospital. You just assume that they have all the supplies that they need, but they didn't. And I mean, it was a really heart wrenching thank you for what you're doing. And every time I would get an email, I would read them to my students, and they were just overwhelmed. They just thought it was like the coolest thing.

Host:

While Shorrock and her students were grateful for the ability to help the community, she sees another opportunity for her students, as they begin applying for jobs after graduation.

Elizabeth Shorrock:

So, and I don't know if this is true, I've had this conversation with my daughter who's also in college, but not here. And I said, I think that in the future, if you're applying for a job or an internship, I would imagine that someone might ask you, so what did you do during the pandemic? How did you get through it? And to be able to say that I worked on this giant mask project, and it's not just the cloth mask that people are now selling or doing like the buy one, give one model. We were actually making them for the hospital, for the people that worked in the hospital. And I think that's kind of amazing. And I think to be able to say that, and my students are like, they feel really good about ... They're jokingly saying, "Should we put this on our resume?" I'm like, "Yes, you should definitely put it on your resume."

Elizabeth Shorrock:

I mean, it's a positive contribution in a time where not everybody has the ability to do something, and we did and we still do. So I think it's been a really interesting experience for all of us, but yes, but they are overwhelmed when they hear all of these really wonderful emails we've been getting from people, and thank yous, and I think that they feel really good about being able to have done something.

Host:

The supplies of personal protective equipment have improved around the country. Recent surges across the United States and in West Virginia give pause for thought. If cases rise, supplies may again be necessary, making this project even more worthwhile.

Host:

The team still has precut fabric and elastic to supply to anyone who's interested in making their own masks at home. Just contact Shorrock at elizabeth.shorrock@mail.wvu.edu. If anyone would like to donate to support the students' mask making efforts through work study, are encouraged to contact the WVU Foundation. If you're interested in learning more about West Virginia University's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, visit coronavirus.wvu.edu. Follow us on social at WVU Health on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Make sure you subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast app to get the latest episodes as they're released.