WINCHESTER — A mask-making contest by staff at Winchester Medical Center this week 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 today, 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.”

The contest on Wednesday was organized through the hospital’s Morale & Welfare Committee, said Bonnie Pitt, corporate director of pharmacy for Valley Health. She said it formed shortly before COVID-19 came to the valley and has offered other morale-based programs.

“The response was way more than I ever expected,” she said. “Staff came down every day last week and they all saw something different depending on the day.”

The contest was also 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, Kimberly Sowers of Kimberly’s, and board member Harry Smith.

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 18-22.

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

The grand prize went to the Non-Invasive Cardiology Department for the “Foo Man Achoo” mask, which featured Mardi Gras beads and feathers as a tribute to the department head for his “sacrifice of facial hair” while wearing an N95 mask.

Other winners were:

- Funniest: Labor and Delivery, At Your Cervix

- Flashiest: Non-Invasive Cardiology, Foo Man Achoo

- Most Creative: Diet Clerks – Kangaroo Feeding Bag

- We’re All Heroes: Starbucks

- Inspiring Hope: Medical Oncology

- Forever Apple Blossom: Valley Pharmacy – Apple Blossom 2020

- Departmental Representation: EVS (Environmental Services) Floor Crew – Toilet Paper Mask

People’s Choice Awards (voted by employees)

- Hyperbaric Dept — Spider Man

- Honorable Mentions to Non-Invasive Cardiology – Foo Man Achoo, Emergency/PAS Apple Blossom, Human Resources Jeweled Valley Health Mask