Local demand outstrips supply for homemade face masks across Wellington Shire

Demand is high for handmade face masks locally. Pictured (socially distanced) at Segue Neighbourhood House, Stratford, are manager Jess Darvill, Julie Malyon, Linda Brodribb and Beth Ripper. Photo: Liz Bell
Demand is high for handmade face masks locally. Pictured (socially distanced) at Segue Neighbourhood House, Stratford, are manager Jess Darvill, Julie Malyon, Linda Brodribb and Beth Ripper. Photo: Liz Bell

A ROBUST face mask-making cottage industry has sprung up in Wellington Shire, as the community steps up to ensure a steady supply of masks is available locally.

While last week the Gippsland Times reported on the introduction of new face mask rules had fuelled a rising demand for fabric in Yarram, it seems homemade is the preferred option around the shire.

In the wake of earlier shortages of personal protective equipment Australia-wide, and the health department's new ruling that any face covering is better than none, savvy sewers have taken up arms.

A scan of local community Facebook pages reveals individuals from Tinamba to Loch Sport, and everywhere in between, are jumping on the opportunity to fill the void, making an assortment of face mask styles to sell locally and online for up to $20 each.

The homemade masks are so popular, some sewers are even taking orders to fill growing waiting lists.

Marg Rubin, who operates a small clothing, accessories and discount store in Maffra, says she sold $700 of her homemade masks in the first two days of offering them, and orders continue to flow in.

Ms Robin's masks sell for about $8 each. "In the first few days I thought 'I've bitten off more than I can chew here'," she said.

Ms Rubin said she knew of several local residents selling their masks from home, who were equally battling to keep up with demand.

Stratford woman Susan Ford is making washable face masks in three sizes and in a range of patterns and colours, including football colours.

Like everyone else in the sewing business, she is receiving bulk orders, and is doing her best to keep up with demand.

The shire currently has no confirmed COVID-19-cases, but many locals are erring on the side of caution and deciding to wear masks in public.

A selection of bright and fashionable face masks made at Stratfords Segue Neighbourhood House, which is running face mask-making classes every Thursday.

A selection of bright and fashionable face masks made at Stratfords Segue Neighbourhood House, which is running face mask-making classes every Thursday.

And certain chain stores, such as the Reject Shop in Sale, are adhering to a head office statewide policy that customers must be wearing masks to enter stores.

In an attempt to slow the spread of the virus, the health department has ruled people living in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire must wear masks when away from home, and anyone living in regional areas is advised to wear a face covering when social distancing is not possible.

For anyone on a budget or with time on their hands, Stratford's Segue Neighbourhood House is running face mask-making classes Thursdays for the tiny cost of a gold coin for pensioners and Segue volunteers, and $5 for everyone else.

Segue manager Jessica Darvill said there was plenty of material left over from earlier bag making sessions, but a shortage of elastic was creating delays.

She said the classes had proven popular, and were giving residents an affordable alternative to buying shop masks.

Those interested should phone Jess on 0426 207 474.

Meanwhile, the state government has announced it will distribute 2.1 million reusable face masks to vulnerable Victorians, Aboriginal Victorians and government health employees who deliver health services.

Victorians who meet the eligibility are able to collect masks from a number of local government and community health services, including community pharmacies.

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Victoria branch president John Jackson welcomed the announcement, saying the organisation supported the supply of masks to vulnerable Victorians through community pharmacies as part of the public health program.

"Community pharmacies are an easily accessible location for members of the public to access masks and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia supports this initiative by the Victorian government," he said.

"Pharmacists can make a judgement themselves on the resourcing they have available to participate.

"It is important that people with symptoms of COVID-19 do not present to the pharmacy to collect a mask and that they send someone else to do so."

Following feedback from members, the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia has called on the Victorian government to ask people not to enter pharmacies while displaying flu-like symptoms or waiting for results from COVID-19 tests.

Analysis of Victorians diagnosed with COVID-19 between July 7 and 21 showed nearly nine in 10 people did not self-isolate between getting COVID-19 symptoms and getting tested, and 53 per cent did not self-isolate after being tested while awaiting results.

The Department of Health and Human Services has released additional guidance regarding workplace use of face masks, with health care workers required to wear a level one or type one disposable surgical mask in public-facing areas.

More information about who is eligible and how to order face masks can be found at dhhs.vic.gov.au/reusable-face-masks-covid-19.

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