Anchorage officials: We need your COVID-19 protective gear, including homemade masks, ‘immediately’

Trish Siza was the first healthcare provider to greet people in Anchorage seeking COVID-19 testing earlier this month at a drive-through testing location. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage officials are again asking people, businesses and medical providers to donate protective equipment “immediately,” including homemade masks, because of a shortage amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Despite generous community donations so far, Anchorage continues to face a shortage of personal protective equipment and medical supplies,” the Office of Emergency Management said in a plea to residents Saturday morning.

The city issued a similar message a week ago. Since then, its needs have grown to include “non-contact thermometers” — ones that can take people’s temperature without touching them, like with infrared technology. It’s also looking for “universal transport media,” which are the tubes used to stabilize test samples.

The city is also looking for gloves, masks, gowns and face shields. Open and expired equipment are acceptable, as long as it’s not used.

The city also said the Anchorage Fire Department needs homemade masks, as long as they’re made of a “single layer of tightly-woven material,” like dish towels, bed sheets or anti-microbial pillowcases.

Those masks will be used for patients that the department’s first responders are picking up — not for the responders themselves, who are still using traditional medical equipment, said Audrey Gray, a spokeswoman for the city’s emergency operations center.

“Right now, they’re using medical grade surgical masks, and they’re running low. So, they just want to make sure they’re conserving those for actual medical use, instead of using them on patients,” Gray said. “It’s not ideal, but it’s what times are calling for at this moment.”

Homemade masks must be able to be washed and dried on high heat, and people should wash their hands and keep things clean when making them; don’t make them if you have any symptoms of respiratory illness, the city said. Packs of 25 or less can be placed in a clear ziplock bag, and all donations can be dropped off at CrossFit Alaska, 9191 Old Seward Highway, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., seven days a week.