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Coronavirus Kent: Whitstable care firm Tender Loving Carers forced to make DIY surgical masks

A care firm has been forced to make its own DIY surgical masks due to a national shortage amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Tender Loving Carers, which provides services in Whitstable and Herne Bay, is struggling to provide all of its workers with the protective gear.

A carer with her new mask. Picture: Britt Grutzmacher
A carer with her new mask. Picture: Britt Grutzmacher

Managing director Britt Grutzmacher said she is giving all care workers the one-use surgical masks - as well as gloves, aprons and hand sanitizer - when they are visiting clients with Covid-19 symptoms.

"We have clients who haven’t got symptoms who we are not doing personal care for but feel unsafe with carers coming in, " she said. "They still need care but they are concerned."

Social work student Milene Rocha-Albuquerque was alerted to an online template for making a re-usable surgical mask and brought it to Ms Grutzmacher's attention.

The company promoted the idea of the washable cloth masks in its newsletter and volunteers came forward to help create them.

Ms Grutzmacher added: "One of the office staff, his mother-in-law, is a really keen seamstress.

A daughter of a staff member makes a surgical mask. Picture: Britt Grutzmacher
A daughter of a staff member makes a surgical mask. Picture: Britt Grutzmacher

"She has a group of people and they said they would like to help make them and donate material.

"These can be provided to our carers when they are travelling to a job and when they are visiting a client who doesn’t have symptoms. They will not eliminate every chance of getting it, it will reduce it.

"We have a lot of family members of staff helping to make them and even clients on board, which is giving them something to do."

Ms Grutzmacher is now trying to promote this idea so other care companies can make them.

The masks are about 60% to 70% effective and volunteers are making about 50 of them a day for the Tender Loving Carers staff.

Milene Rocha-Albuquerque with one of the surgical masks. Picture: Britt Grutzmacher
Milene Rocha-Albuquerque with one of the surgical masks. Picture: Britt Grutzmacher

Addressing the other challenges the company faces, Ms Grutzmacher said: "We have very strict guidelines which we have to follow.

"Our workforce is scared because they have their own health conditions or are highly vulnerable.

"Financially, it is difficult because we are providing all of our staff with hand sanitizer and paper towels.

"The biggest thing is the changing guidance daily. We are getting changes hourly which is good but it isn’t always clear."

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