From left, Covington Public Works employees Paul Thompson, a light equipment operator, and James Payne, a laborer 4, wear two of the homemade protective masks donated to the department.
COVINGTON, Ky. - Kat Schunder wants to make it clear she isn't a seamstress.
"I've never sewn a lick in my life," she said.
But when she was making small talk with her neighbor, Covington Public Works Director Chris Warneford, and heard about the difficulty he was having obtaining protective masks for his employees, she decided to learn a new skill.
So she bought a sewing machine and tracked down a supply of washable, anti-bacterial material called Mighty Bamboo Towels ("My brother's in construction, and he said they're basically like a filtration system," she said).
And then she got to work making homemade protective masks, whose use has been recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for non-health care workers as an added level of protection against the spread of the highly contagious strain of coronavirus that's causing the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first mask took a while to make, Schunder said. "But I'm getting better as I go along," she said.
Earlier this week, she turned over the first batch of 16 masks to Warneford. Now she's making a second batch. "Any way I can help out," she explained.
Warneford said he immediately passed out the masks to Public Works employees to wear when they have to go out "in the field" or have to ride in a truck with another worker. His department has changed staffing levels, work schedules and job procedures to practice social distancing, even from each other.
But the masks - as outlined by the CDC - offer an additional layer of protection.
"I really want to thank Kat for thinking about the guys and helping me out," Warneford said.
City Manager David Johnston echoed that message.
Local governments and even state governments across the nation have had ongoing problems during the pandemic finding personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves and sanitizing products for their employees, as have health-care providers. Purchases are on backorder and - when states and others do place orders - they say they find that the federal government has either outbid them or sometimes has requisitioned their orders without explanation.
"Many of our Covington businesses and even individuals have stepped up and either donated supplies, or in the case of masks, made them, and we really appreciate that," Johnston said. "These are all just great examples of the great community spirit that Covington is blessed with."