Thursday marked Gulf Coast State College’s first full day of production. In roughly eight hours, enough fabric was sliced for more than 1,500 face masks.

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PANAMA CITY BEACH — A local college has modified equipment on campus to help mass produce face masks for people during the COVID-19 pandemic.


For about a week, Gulf Coast State College has been tweaking a high-speed carbon fiber cutter to slice fabric that’s being used to make face masks.


According to Katie McCurdy, the school’s executive director for community engagement, Thursday marked GCSC’s first full day of production. In roughly eight hours, enough fabric was sliced for more than 1,500 masks.


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“We’ve always been the community’s college,” McCurdy said. “Anything we can do to support the community, that’s what we’re here for.


“... It’s just a huge, tremendous thing that we can support our community, right here, locally,” she added.


The idea to repurpose the cutter came from Tom Hoots, a Lynn Haven resident and volunteer at the school.


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Hoots said that he was inspired by new information released from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that advised people to wear masks any time they leave their homes and are around others.


“The only people who can stop COVID-19 right now is the public,” he said. “We do that by not spreading it. If you’re wearing a community mask when you’re around other people, you are not spreading the virus.


“It’s all in our hands right now,” he added. “A while from now, we’ll have treatments in the hospitals and vaccines that we can use, (but) right now, only the citizens can prevent the spread of this virus.”


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The fabric, donated to the school by Parthenon Prints, a local textile print plant, is delivered to JOANN Fabrics and Crafts once it’s cut. From there, it’s distributed to locals who can either sew masks for themselves and loved ones, or donate the sewn masks back to JOANN’s.


Looking ahead, the school plans to continue production for as long as face masks are in high demand. McCurdy added that along with being a chance to give back to the community, the mission also helps student volunteers gain real-world experience.


“It’s not something that they read in a text book or (saw) in a virtual simulation, they’re actually in there getting to experience a real world experience and a need that’s out there,” she said.