Salem Health runs out of hospital mask sewing kits in half an hour

People line up to grab a mask sewing kit from a Salem Health distribution in the former Kmart parking lot on Thursday, March 26, 2020 (Courtesy/Keith Riggs)

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UPDATE, 2:11 P.M.

Salem Health ran out of sew-your-own mask kits in the first half hour of what was supposed to be a two-day giveaway in Salem.

Hospital employees handed out enough kits to make nearly 10,000 masks Thursday as hundreds of people lined up in cars in the former Kmart parking lot.

The demand was so great Salem police were called out to direct traffic.

Salem Health was also distributing 50 mask kits in Dallas and expected to run out today, spokesman Elijah Penner said.

“Thank you so very much for your willingness to help health care workers, neighbors and friends. If you didn’t get a chance to participate, don’t worry. We still feel the love,” the hospital said on Twitter.


If you can sew and have spare time, Salem Health needs you.

The health organization is seeking volunteers to sew 10,000 masks for nurses and other care providers on the front lines of the COVID-19 outbreak. It is distributing kits Thursday, March 26, and Friday, March 27, with surgical paper fabric for sewers to use.

Eleven COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at Salem Hospital as of Tuesday, March 24, spokeswoman Shannon Priem said, with 40 more patients awaiting test results.

The request for community help comes as many Oregon hospitals are facing severe shortages of protective equipment. 

Some, including Salem Hospital, are asking healthcare providers to use a single mask for an entire shift. Spokesman Elijah Penner said the hospital this week is at its highest level of mask conservation.

On Wednesday, Oregon Health Authority for the first time disclosed how much of the state’s emergency stockpile had been used up. The state has already distributed all the gowns, 95% of the face shields and 80% of the N-95 respirator masks stockpiled, the Oregonian reported.

Last week, Salem Hospital created its own in-house team to make gowns and face shields, said Leilani Slama, vice president of community engagement.

Those wishing to help can pick up a kit, which contains materials and directions for 30 to 50 masks at the Town Park security booth in the former Salem Kmart parking lot at Southeast Mission Street and Southeast 25th Street, or in the West Valley Hospital parking lot in Dallas.

Volunteers will need a sewing machine, white thread, scissors or a rotary cutter, and a yardstick.

Kits will be distributed Thursday, March 26, from 1-3 p.m. and Friday, March 27, from 9-11 a.m. Volunteers are asked to return the masks during scheduled drop-off times next week, and to practice social distancing by not hosting mask-making parties with friends or neighbors.

More information, including video instruction, is available at salemhealth.org/masks.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander at [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.