KENT — As it becomes evident to experts the spread of COVID-19 is going to be widespread, challenging to even Northeast Ohio’s medical systems, volunteers have stepped up and started sewing masks of fabric to protect medical professionals and others with frequent exposure to the virus.

While the homemade masks are not as effective as the N95 masks manufactured by 3M and other companies, University Hospitals has decided the system still can use fabric masks sewn at home. The hospital system has provided a pattern and specific guidelines for sewing the DIY masks.

“Those are going to do two things for us,” said Dr. Randy Jernejcic, vice president of clinical integration for University Hospitals. “One is, we’re going to have people wear those over their N95s, so that way they stay good longer. The other way we’re using cloth masks is for people to be able to wear them at low-risk times.”

He said the Centers for Disease Control recommended a mask as simple as a bandana in a pinch.

“It’s certainly better than a bandana, but it’s not as good as the N95 mask,” said Jernejcic of UH’s design.

At the same time, Kent State University student Irvin Cardenas, a doctorate candidate in robotics, is working with others to help provide better prices and streamline purchasing of masks and other medical supplies.

“We’re really trying to help the community sort of coordinate the effort and get products at reasonable prices,” he explained.

According to the GoFundMe page “MasksForHope,” he established Wednesday, he hopes to leverage some connections in industry in China to help procure FDA-approved N95 masks and other products direct from manufacturers.

According to the GoFundMe page, the fundraising effort, which is over $2,500 since Wednesday, would be able to acquire 3,500 N95 masks for $10,000.

University Hospitals needs as many as 100,000 fabric, homemade masks, said Jernejcic.

“Our goal would be to give all our employees at least three, one you can be wearing, one you can be washing and one spare,” he said. “It’s going to continue to help flatten that curve. That’s why this masking thing is so important.”

Jernejcic also said University Hospitals has tested masks cut from their pattern and material. The pattern and material is the best balance of comfort, protection, durability and reusability. He also said they had been checked out by University Hospitals’ infectious disease experts.

“I’ve been wearing one for the last two days,” he said. “We have to balance those things I mentioned. It only works if they can be washed frequently and are not disposable.”

In addition to several small businesses, he said there are “a couple hundred individual volunteers reaching out who want to help.”

Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, bgaetjens@recordpub.com or @bobgaetjens_rpc.