Cayuga Medical and Cornell turn Bartels Hall into big surgical mask sewing operation

Local News

ITHACA, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Classes on the Cornell University campus have gone online for the rest of the spring semester, but there’s still quite a bit of activity inside Bartels Hall.

With Cayuga Medical System, Cornell has created a surgical mask sewing operation in the building that normally hosts basketball games.

“It was a little surreal. There were tables, very spread out,” says Kim Phoenix, a lecturer at Cornell University and also a sewing volunteer.

There are several sewing stations set far enough apart to respect social distancing and each station is sanitized before a sewer sits down.

Cayuga Medical System first started taking stock of its PPE back in February as COVID-19 was approaching New York and they knew they’d run short of masks.

Carol O’Driscoll is the Senior Director of Surgical Services for Cayuga Health System. She tells NewsChannel 9, “We reached out for the space that we needed to be able to make these masks. We’re in a social distancing situation and space became very important to us. Cornell University extended their hand within 30 minutes of our ask.”

Cornell’s Bartels Hall was quickly transformed into a mask sewing site. Every person who volunteers goes through a health screening starting with their temperature being taken.

“I got an email from a friend who’s a sewer and she was like, hey they’re looking for volunteers. At that point, I was at home working on my courses and kind of filling out paperwork and I’m like, I could probably be doing something a little bit better,” Phoenix tells NewsChannel 9.

The volunteers are both from Cornell and also the Ithaca community at large. There are 30 people per shift working two shifts a day looking to help.

“It gives me a little bit of focus. I think we’re all dealing with that, we’re lost, we don’t know what to do,” Phoenix adds.

O’Driscoll says, “These masks are surgical masks, they are disposable, so it’s very different than the programs within our communities of the cloth masks being made. These masks go into the hospital supply chain.”

Each mask has a hand written thank you tagged on that was written by a member of Ithaca’s faith based community.

“So that when the frontline provider who needs this mask reaches in there’s some very touching thank yous. God Bless you, keep safe, thank you for keeping our community safe,” O’Driscoll says.

Phoenix adds, ‘I can’t treat people on the frontline. I can’t do what everybody else is doing in the hospitals and first responders but I can sew, and if that can help, I can do it. And I think that’s what a lot of people in there feel, it’s their way of giving back.”

They went from making a few hundred each of the first couple days to now around 1,800 masks per day.

Besides Cayuga Medical, 300 masks went to Bangs Ambulance in Ithaca.


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For more local news, follow Jeff Kulikowsky on Twitter @JeffNC9.

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