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Meet the Mask Makers

Kelly and June with mic
Photo Credit: Ézé Amos

As of April 3, the CDC recommends that all people wear masks in public spaces. Given the national shortage of N-95 masks, many people are making their own masks for themselves, their communities, and for healthcare workers.

But are cloth masks safe? What is the proper way to make and wear a mask? How can you help in the mask making movement?

On the first episode of Social Distance Assistance, Kelly and June set out to find some of the helpers and learn how to make their own masks along the way. 

Sewing Masks for Area Hospitals is one Atlanta-based grassroots group they found  making thousands of homemade masks for over 50 hospitals and medical facilities. Through their extensive network of sewists, they are able to make a prolific impact, while never coming in contact with each other. Kelly and June take you through how they do it and how you can help!

We also meet Lisa Woolfork, host of the podcast Stitch Please, as she contemplates the efficacy of mask making in response to combating a global pandemic.

Key Takeaways

Here are a few great ways you can get involved if you want to become a mask-making helper:

  • If you can sew, consider making masks for your community - especially people on the front lines like healthcare providers. But also grocery store clerks, postal workers, funeral home assistants, veterinarians, inmates, farm workers, delivery drivers...anyone who frequently comes into contact with people.
  • If you can’t sew or would prefer not to, there are plenty of no-sew mask alternatives available: 

  • If you’re making masks, do what you can to make the masks look COVID-related (closer to a surgical mask than a bandana)
  • If you have materials but no time to make masks, you can donate fabric and elastic to local sewing groups. Or buy materials from craft stores and arrange contact-less deliveries to them.
  • You can look for organizations in your community that need help with logistics. Volunteer to drive masks and materials around. Help moderate a Facebook page or web site. Put those spreadsheet skills to use! 
  • If you can only do one thing right now, make or buy your own local cloth mask to wear when you go outside.

Questions & Answers

In our Thursday episode, we spoke with Dr. Lindsey Neal of Charlottesville Direct Primary Care about some of the questions we’ve been hearing, as well as some our own about how to effectively make, wear and care for masks. Here’s a selection of her responses to the questions:

Are cloth masks more about preventing the virus from getting in or getting out?
The goal for those is to prevent the wearer from spreading or transmitting the virus to other people...the reason why the CDC made the recommendation for all people to wear them is because now it’s pretty evident that there are asymptomatic carriers of the virus and so there are people who are positive with SARS-COVID-2 and they’re not having any sort of symptoms and so they’re out in the world living doing whatever and don’t think they’re sick, but they’re actually spreading the virus. 

What’s the best material for making my own mask at home?
There’s been so many innovative studies about material...One of the tips and tricks I’ve read is when you’re making the mask at home, if you’re trying to figure out which fabric to use, hold it up to a light source and the less light you can see through the fabric, the better the fabric is going to be for filtering the air. You also want to keep in mind that you have to breathe through this mask, too, so you don’t want to use something very impermeable...I’ve heard of people using tea bags [for filters] because they’re anti-microbial and you can layer them in a certain way that helps with the careful with some of the stuff. I’ve read also about some of the vacuum bags having fiberglass shards in them, so you don’t want to use that in a mask where you’re going to be breathing through it. If you’re not sure it’s safe, don’t use it.

How do you make sure you don’t spread the virus when handling a mask?
You have to not touch your face after you put it on...put your mask on before you leave the house...and never touch your face again after you put your mask on...when you come back home, you walk from your car straight to your washing machine or your sink and you take the mask off by only touching the string that ties it. Never touch the part on the outside or the inside of the mask. Use hot water, as hot as you can, and then the dryer. If you don’t have a dryer, then use the sunshine.

Does wearing a mask mean I can stand closer than 6 feet from my friends?
No. People will start to think they can wear the mask and then do whatever they want to...but I just think it’s really important that we pretend the mask isn’t there and continue to keep six feet away from people...the beauty of the mask is that when people see you wearing the mask they’re like ‘ooh, I’m not going to get close to that person.’ It’s like a double duty - like you’re protecting other people from your own secretions and potential transmitting of asymptomatic virus, but you’re also telling someone else ‘stay away from me.’

Additional Resources

Get In Touch

Have an idea for a story we should tell on Social Distance Assistance? Or want to tell one on the show yourself? Get in touch with ideas and pitches, send us your photos of homemade masks, and just let us know how you’re doing: [email protected].

Please note that the information shared in these episodes is representative of the date on which they were published, and that knowledge and understanding of masks is constantly changing. The CDC prevention webpage is a good place to check for up-to-date information about keeping yourself and others safe.


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