Sitka Mask Makers Rising to Challenge

Sentinel Staff Writer

City, health care and emergency response leaders in Sitka issued a “call to action” today, asking residents to sew face masks to donate to SEARHC, to help prevent and slow the spread of COVID-19.

A number of Sitkans may have anticipated this request – for more than a week they have been hard at work, with dozens of seamstresses contributing hundreds of masks for use here and around Southeast, under the organization Southeast Alaska Mask Makers. They’re available to the public.

The city virus response team issued a news release:

“While SEARHC leadership has stated that their personal protective equipment quantities are currently sufficient across the region, the Sitka (Emergency Operations Center) is hoping crafters currently sheltered-in-place would welcome the opportunity to help.”

The city’s website calls the home-sewn masks “part of the coronavirus response.”

“While homemade masks are not a viable replacement option for N95 masks, we at SEARHC do see the benefit of supplementing our supply of masks that we use for patients,” said SEARHC Vice President and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Elliot Bruhl. “There are opportunities to use these homemade masks for patients, potentially preserving some of our supply.” 

Sarah Jordan holds up one of the colorful fabric face masks she is making at home today. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)


The wearing of homemade masks by the general public is a matter of controversy. (See related Washington Post story.)

SEARHC has put up links to a number of patterns for sewing facemasks:

Those wishing to donate their homemade masks to SEARHC can drop them off at the Harrigan Centennial Hall entrance, the press release on the city website says. 

The homemade masks do not meet the standards set by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for N95 masks, which are in short supply at localized COVID-19 outbreaks in the U.S.

“Homemade masks ... are not effective in filtering small particles typically transmitted through coughs or sneezes, including COVID-19,” the city press release says. “When worn, these homemade masks could discourage touching of the face and protect from contact with liquids. Homemade cloth masks could be properly laundered for reuse.”

A group of volunteers called the Southeast Alaska Mask Makers have been making face masks at their homes in Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka and outlying areas. For others interested in sewing them, the group offers a kit for making the masks.

“These are not N95s,” clarified Mercedes Phillips, a Sitka member of the mask making group.

The group is using only one or two patterns, in order to have some uniformity, and to let people know what they’re getting.

Generally the pattern is for a three-fold face mask, with elastic to be attached to the ears, and an optional wire piece for a better fit around the nose.

“There’s such a shortage of PPE materials,” Phillips said. “We want to get ahead of the demand. We feel we will get to the point where masks won’t be available even for medical professionals. We don’t want to get to the point where we are scrambling to catch up.”

Groups and individuals can request masks on the group’s Facebook pages. There are also instructions, like washing them after every use. Local organizers are following precautions and limit contact with the volunteer seamstresses.  

Like many others, Phillips said she signed up as a volunteer after following the news of scarce resources around the U.S., and wanted to make a difference.

JoAnn Fabrics in Juneau sent over fabric and thread, which are included in the kits in town. Also in the kits are instructions on precautions, and other materials.

Sarah Jordan, president of Ocean Wave Quilters, has joined the effort, adding her own fabric from past projects. Other volunteers from Ocean Wave are also involved, along with independent seamstresses.

“I saw some on Pintrest but for a while I didn’t know it was going on here,” she said. Since signing on as a volunteer, she has been talking to a lot who have been keeping busy with mask making, either for other Southeast communities or Sitka. She noted resources are available online, to help teach people how to make them.

The pattern she is using is the three-pleat mask, with two layers of cotton fabric on the outside, and a layer of nonwoven pellon interfacing in the middle.

Another option is for ties instead of elastic around the ears, but Jordan said this requires more sewing skills than the ones with elastic.

Jordan, always an active volunteer in the community, said she was more than willing to help, for a few reasons. 

“I have so much fabric that I’m very happy to use some of it up,” Jordan said, noting the basketball, fish, dogs and turtle fabrics she’s already used.

Phillips said those with questions may call her at 907-209-0114, or fellow coordinator Sherri Blankenship at 907- 830-7677.

Nancy Furlow, president of Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 4, is organizing volunteer seamstresses here as well, and working closely with the Southeast Alaska Mask Maker group.

The news release also gave reminders of the recommendations for best preventing and slowing the spread of COVID-19:

– Avoiding close contact with ill persons remains the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) preferred action to prevent the contracting of any virus.

“The CDC also recommends the continued practice of everyday preventive methods, including washing your hands thoroughly and often; covering of coughs and sneezes; cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects; and getting a flu shot. SEARHC continues to recommend that patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, or immune compromise, should contact their doctor immediately if they become ill, while healthy people should stay home if they become sick.”

Information on the coronavirus is available at

The SEARHC COVID hotline is 966-8799.

The city also has a COVID-19 link on the city webpage:



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At a Glance

(updated 11-29-22)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Tuesday, November 29.

New cases as of Tuesday: 414

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 286,561

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,399

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 4,195

Case Rate per 100,000 – 56.8

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 70.40

Cases in last 7 days – 6

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,173

Hospitalizations (to date) – 31

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






December 2002

 Alaska Native Sisterhood will hold a Christmas bazaar Dec. 7 at the ANB Hall. Isabella’s famous clam chowder and fry bread also will be for sale.



December 1972

Photo caption: Presbyterian women of today wear costumes from 1877-1899 at Sunday’s service. From left are Alice Postell, Dorothy Streit, Gladys Whitmore, Carrie Maura, Harriet Hannigan, Eugenie Williams, Esther Littlefield, Isabel Miller, Marilyn Ryan, Esther Billman, Beverly Scholz, Gertie Zeiger, Marcia Strand and Betty Stratton. (Photo by Martin Strand)