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Donations of masks helps Sonoma County medical professionals

The prospect that Sonoma County nurses and other medical professionals might contract the coronavirus because of a dearth of respirator masks lit a fire under Jesse Rael.

A radiologist with many friends and colleagues in health care, Rael launched a mission to collect as many N95 and other protective masks as possible, and to get them to local hospitals and health workers.

“The response,” Rael said, “has just been amazing, unbelievable.”

On Friday alone, he received and distributed about 2,000 masks. “People are still bringing them over this morning,” the Santa Rosan said Saturday.

Individuals and businesses have answered Rael’s call for donations of the masks that amid the pandemic are in great demand and short supply.

Rael has delivered donated masks to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. He hopes to give masks also to other health care providers in the area, and to police departments and paramedics.

At Memorial, grateful chief executive Tyler Hedden said masks have flowed in from Rael and from Friedman Bros. and other businesses and private citizens who seek ways to be helpful amid shelter-in-place orders and a widening health crisis.

“This is a perfect thing to engage them in, because this fight is real,” Hedden said.

“This,” the hospital exec added, “is a Rosie the Riveter moment.”

Friday afternoon, Memorial staffers accepted 1,200 masks from Exchange Bank executive Sue Madigan. She said the bank had stored them “as sort of a flu precaution.”

Also on Friday, Madigan dropped another 1,200 masks at Sutter. On Monday she’ll deliver that many to the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center and Santa Rosa Community Health.

At Kaiser on Friday, nurses posed for a thumbs-up photo after they received a shipment of masks from Ghilotti Construction. The firm donated masks also to Memorial and to Kaiser, and to Marin General Hospital, and to Adventist Health Howard Memorial in Willits.

Willie Ghilotti said his company began to pull out stored respirator masks after President Trump specifically requested construction companies to donate them. Then Ghilotti’s father, Dick Ghilotti, fielded a request for N95 masks from a member of the board of Marin General. The Ghilottis sent the hospital 10 boxes.

After donating all the masks the firm had on hand, Willie Ghilotti searched for and purchased more masks from a variety of sources, chiefly Friedman Bros. and HD Supply White Cap. Those also have gone or will go to local hospitals.

Said Willie Ghilotti, “We are hopeful that others will donate and support what they can - generosity is contagious.”

Santa Rosa Junior College has donated more than 2,000 masks to local hospitals.

Healdsburg Hospital is receiving masks from donors who leave them in a drop box located inside a tent near the emergency entrance.

Back at Memorial on Saturday, spokeswoman Katy Hillenmeyer said the masks keep coming - from private citizens, dentists and other medical professionals, and from businesses.

“Folks continue to come to the front door and donate them,” Hillenmeyer said. “We are so grateful to the community for their outpouring of generosity.”

She said Memorial is happy to receive medical-grade, clean, unopened masks.

Throughout the county, people are rallying to get unused masks to the professionals who are at risk as they toil to treat patients and stem the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Others eager to do something constructive are firing up their sewing machines and creating homemade masks for use by patients being discharged from hospitals.

The operators of Village Sewing Center in Santa Rosa invite people who sew to research online how to make scrap-fabric masks with pockets for a changeable filter. Homemade masks can be dropped off at the sewing store on Lewis Road.

Mask-man Jesse Rael vows to continue to collect and give away masks until the shortage passes and hospitals and first responders have all they need - or “until people get tired of me.”

Rael, who invites potential donors of masks to contact him at jesserael@mac.com, sees this grassroots effort to get protective masks to nurses and others in health care as one of the little lights - “little lights of hope” - that shine at a very dark time.

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