In normal times, attorney Andrew Garza would be leading his small firm of four lawyers and six staff in helping clients prepare for litigation involving injury, product liability and workers’ compensation claims.
But since these are not normal times, the 32-year-old Farmington resident who co-owns the Connecticut Trial Firm said he decided to focus his efforts on helping hospitals restock ever-dwindling supplies in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen 1,012 cases and 21 deaths statewide as of Thursday afternoon.
Garza took to the company’s Facebook page on Monday to announce he is looking for fellow citizens to make personal protective equipment, specifically by sewing disposable face masks.
Garza is working closely with the staff at Hartford HealthCare to provide the materials to the seven state hospitals under its umbrella. Hartford HealthCare is accepting donations from the public of, among other things, disposable face masks, goggles, disposable head covers, disposable gowns and N95 respirator face masks.
Garza, who received his law degree in 2012 from New England School of Law in Boston, sat down for an interview with the Connecticut Law Tribune. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Connecticut Law Tribune: On Monday, your firm put out the word via Facebook for anyone with a sewing machine to sew face masks and other personal protective equipment due to the coronavirus pandemic. What was the impetus for this endeavor?
Andrew Garza: I think everyone is trying to figure out how they can be of help during this difficult time for our country.
Our firm and our clients have been the beneficiaries of excellent medical care from the providers in Connecticut and we want to do what we can to help. There was also a lot of uncertainty about if and what homemade protective equipment hospitals were accepting, if they have standards they need people to follow, and, most importantly, where the equipment can be delivered once it’s made.
Our goal was to let people know this is a very real need and that their efforts would be helpful.
CLT: What can people do to get started sewing face masks and other PPE.
Garza: Hartford HealthCare was really out ahead of this effort and has put out guidance on its website.
On that website you will find links for those who want to donate PPE. They also provide a video of the requested plan and the description section contains resources. The plan has written instructions from Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores.
Folks can get a jump-start by downloading the premade pattern from there as well.
We have also started a Facebook group to provide near-daily updates on any changes to guidance or needs.
CLT: Do you have any concerns about the effectiveness of these homemade face masks in adequately protecting hospital personnel and patients from the virus?
Garza: I don’t. We’ve been told that hospitals need them, so we’re working to help. Though, I will add, I’ve seen the concerns about the homemade masks, on their own, being enough protection.
I do think these masks are better than no protection, but we’ve also received feedback from health care professionals that these masks also serve an excellent role in acting as a covering for the N95 masks that are in such short supply and provide added, disposable protection and increase the longevity of the N95 masks.
CLT: What are your plans—for both the short and long term—in continuing this project and what is your goal as it relates to how many PPE items you’d like to donate?
Garza: Our only goal is to continue to coordinate and help as long as there is a need. We are still actively working to recruit folks to help with our efforts and anticipate providing any and all homemade medical equipment that is made during this time, as quickly as we can, as it becomes available.
CLT: What is your message to fellow attorneys who want to give their time and energy to help the health care community during this crisis?
Garza: There’s a demonstrated need and any help is appreciated. Whether that’s simply following social distancing protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, helping with the purchase or manufacture of PPE, or helping to ensure that vulnerable populations are fed and safe. We are all in this together.