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WINCHESTER — A mask-making contest by staff at Winchester Medical Center on Wednesday was a way for the hospital to boost morale during the COVID-19 pandemic and encourage mask-wearing efforts in the community.

Coincidentally following Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement on Tuesday mandating the wearing of masks inside public buildings starting Friday, the contest also sought to reiterate that wearing masks helps lessen the spread of the virus.

“The purpose of having everyone wear masks is it allows us to do more safely,” said Dr. Jeffrey Feit, vice president of population health for Valley Health.

“If we all wear masks,” he said, “we get to do more. We get to go out and be with other people because we’re safer.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic approaches the three-month mark around the Northern Shenandoah Valley, he said there are still questions and confusion surrounding the need to wear masks.

“You spread the virus by coughing and sneezing,” he said.

“You wear the mask out of concern that something will come from you to them,” he said. “When both people wear masks, they protect each other.”

For most community members, wearing a mask is a new experience this year, and he said it’s easy to feel uncomfortable and frustrated.

Though many health professionals have worn masks for their whole careers, he said it takes time to get used to it.

If concerned, wear it for a couple of hours a day to get used to the feeling, he said. “Try to find something that fits comfortably.”

Furthermore, he stressed that masks are about protecting against illness, regardless of who’s recommending them.

“This is not a political issue, it’s a safety issue,” he said. “I just think we need to keep our eyes on the very basic science of this.”

Offering the contest was a way for the hospital to have some fun with the idea of wearing masks during the pandemic, said Valley Health board member Kip Rutherford, one of the four judges.

“I think the one from the dietary department with Coke cans hanging on it, that was interesting,” he said.

Also judging the contest were Winchester Medical Center President Grady W. “Skip” Philips III and board member Harry Smith and Kimberly Sowers, owner of Kimberly's in downtown Winchester.

More than 20 masks were submitted to the contest by the May 15 deadline and were on display outside the hospital’s Courtyard Cafe from May 18 to 22.

Michael Chapman of the Hyperbaric Department sewed a Spider Man-themed mask.

A mask sewn by Susan Lessar from Nutrition Therapy included embroidered fruits and vegetables alongside the word “Nutrition” with the medical prescription symbol “Rx” in place of the “r.”

A mask with Mardi Gras beads and feathers was a tribute from the Non-Invasive Cardiology Department to their boss for his “sacrifice of facial hair” while wearing an N95 mask.

“The response was way more than I ever expected,” said Bonnie Pitt, corporate director of pharmacy for the hospital. “Staff came down every day last week and they all saw something different depending on the day.”

The contest was organized through the hospital’s Morale & Welfare Committee, which she said formed shortly before COVID-19 came to the valley and has offered other morale-based programs.

Prizes will be awarded to individuals and departments in the categories of Funniest, Flashiest, Most Creative, Inspiring Hope, We’re All Heroes, Forever Apple Blossom, Department Representation and People’s Choice.

Awards include first, second and third place prizes in each category.

Winners will be announced during the hospital’s Thursday safety call.

“A lot of them would satisfy our mask requirement,” she said.

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