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The Blue Mask Group Donates Over 2,000 Masks To Las Cruces Community

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Daniel Kim has had a singular focus since the start of the pandemic—creating sewing kits for the many volunteers of The Blue Mask Group.

“Good fitting masks that have excellent filtration abilities can mean the difference between health and sickness, or even life and death,” Daniel Kim said.

His wife Barbara is the co-founder of the Las Cruces based organization, which has made thousands of masks for the community.

The organizations original goal of 500 masks for healthcare professionals, has been exceeded five times over, with 2,500 masks being distributed throughout Las Cruces.

“We were able to get sourcing for this blue material that allowed us to make a pretty unique mask that had very good filtration capabilities,” Daniel Kim said. 

Over 2,000 have been donated to places like hospitals, nursing homes, protective services and border shelters. Others have been given to community members that have donated to the group.

“Masks are still in short supply, so we just want to protect our community and do whatever we can,” Barbara Kim said.

The material comes courtesy of Dr. Tom Gormley, the group’s other co-founder, who collects it from local hospitals.  He and Barbara were inspired by strides being made in mask-making at the University of Florida.

“They were taking a material, which is made by the Halyard [Health] Company, and is basically used to sterilize all surgical equipment in the operating room,” Tom Gormley said. “What happens is, they make this stuff, they wrap it, they use it and then they throw it away. We had piles and piles and piles of this used halyard material which is N99 quality.”

Tom Gormley says the N99 quality is what set these masks apart from disposable face coverings.

“An N95 mask will filter out 95 percent of whatever is in the air, as it gets into your lungs, and this material filters out 99 percent,” Tom Gormley said. “And this isn’t necessarily an N95 mask or an N99. It’s the material. So, what you’re really saying is the important thing about the mask is the material covering your face.”

It turns out creating these facial barriers has actually built bridges. The team of over 40 volunteers have been made up of members of various religious organizations and ideologies, all coming together in the hopes of making Las Cruces safer.

“Instantly, people started calling me and saying I want to help sew masks,” Barbara Kim said. “Most of them are elderly and retired. Almost all of us have arthritis, and people can only do so much.”

That hasn’t stopped the volunteers from working on over 120 masks a week, on average.

And they’re not the only ones hard at work making masks out of the material. Dr. Tom Gormley’s wife has introduced the masks into her own practice. Pediatric Dentist Laurie Gormley has made N99 coverings for her entire staff. 

“Dentistry, really early on, was identified as one of the highest risk professions,” Laurie Gormley said. “So we were actually closed for two and a half months because when we’re in there we're working on another person. We're close, and they can't wear a mask. That extra barrier is gone, so it's more important that what we're wearing is extra protective.”

Laurie Gormley is a huge advocate for community mask wearing, citing standard medical practices as proof that masks can go a long way to protect again the virus.

“If you’ve ever had a surgery, no one in that room is mask-less,” Laurie Gormley said. “I wish that everyone would take a deep breath and take a step back and think logically about it. And the least of which is they're not going to hurt. They're not going to make anyone get sick. And we're wearing them all day. All day long, day after day. We're fine.”

The Blue Mask Group’s Co-Founder Barbara Kim agrees, stressing that any type of face covering is better than none at all. It’s a matter of extreme importance to her due to a preexisting condition that puts her at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

“A fabric mask is still a good thing,” Barbara Kim said. “It protects everyone around me from me in case I have the virus and I don’t yet know it. That’s an awesome thing. Seriously, if everyone just wore fabric masks, we could really get this pandemic under control.”

She encourages people in need of masks, or those looking to volunteer, to contact the group at TheBlueMaskGroup2020@gmail.com. Where possible, she says small donations are encouarged.

Above all, she is extremely thankful for the Las Cruces community members that have helped to keep the organization thriving.

“Las Cruces is far and away the most generous community I have ever lived in,” Barbara Kim said. “Whenever there is a crisis the people of Las Cruces step up and go above and beyond. That’s what everyone involved in this project is doing.”