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Iowa prison inmates pitch in on making masks, gowns and hand sanitizer

Iowa prison inmates pitch in on making masks, gowns and hand sanitizer

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IOWA CITY -- As concerns mount about shortages of masks, gloves and gowns to protect health care workers against the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Kim Reynolds said the state is expediting orders through the federal government and enlisting Iowa prison inmates to make hand sanitizer and other supplies.

“We have stood up a system in our state with the National Guard and the Department of Public Health so the health care facilities can order through the system and then we can help prioritize where hot zones are,” Reynolds said in a news conference Sunday.

Her comments came hours after the state’s largest hospital — the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City — issued an “urgent request” for donations of protective face shields to keep hospital staff safe.

The hospital is asking Iowa businesses and individuals to donate new or used protective face shields so there are enough for all on-site hospital employees to wear one.

“These protective shields are extremely effective, especially for our staff who cannot always maintain a 6-foot social distance when interacting with patients, visitors, and colleagues,” said UIHC Chief Executive Officer Suresh Gunasekaran in a statement. “There is a national shortage, and we need to secure an adequate supply for our needs now and in the future.”

The hospital has enough shields for staff who provide patient care or do screenings at hospital entrances, but additional face shields would allow for all employees who interact with patients, visitors and co-workers to wear one.

Reynolds said the state has put in an order for protective masks that is expected to arrive Monday or Tuesday, but she didn’t know how many masks are needed across the state or how many were ordered.

“I know we put in an order, but I don’t remember the quantity,” she said. “We are looking at the hot spots and prioritizing those and working with National Guard, (Department of Corrections), and looking at where the product needs to go.”

Reynolds did not say which areas she considers hot spots, but Johnson County has, by far, the largest number of cases by county and about one-third of the state’s total 90 cases as of Sunday afternoon.

The Iowa Corrections Department has been asked to have inmates make hand sanitizer that could be provided to social workers and other state employees who still must interact with families as part of essential services around the state, Department of Human Services Director Kelly Garcia said at the news conference.

“Iowa Corrections, through Iowa Prison Industries, is trying to help provide several high-demand supplies during this challenging time,” Corrections spokesman Cord Overton said. “We are currently in the early stages of developing gowns, face masks, and hand sanitizer. All three products will be produced by inmates at various facilities. Many of our correctional team and those incarcerated are ready to help in any way they can.”

Reynolds asked at the news conference for medical providers who do elective procedures to delay those services and consider donating protective gear.

The UIHC is seeking protective face shields that are lightweight and adjustable to fit securely to the user’s head, with a shield area that extends below the chin. Previously used face shields are acceptable; UIHC staff can disinfect them.

To donate protective face shields or other personal protective equipment, visit the In-Kind Donations website, at

Individuals, companies or organizations may also call Concierge Services at (319) 356-1900 or (319) 678-5500.

Gunasekaran said that in addition to the donation of protective face shields, the best thing everyone can do to help the hospital is to follow the guidelines for hand hygiene and social distancing in order to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Prevention really is the key,” he said.

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