Amid Virus Mask Shortage, Americans Step Up

Volunteers across nation are setting up sewing machines to get masks to health care workers
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2020 7:51 AM CDT
Amid Virus Mask Shortage, Americans Step Up
Linda Helton makes face masks in the kitchen of her home in Webster Groves, Mo., on Monday.   (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

An interior decorator. A guy who waterproofs basements. A fashion designer. These are just a few of the Good Samaritans around the country who are sitting behind their sewing machines to churn out face masks for health care workers amid the coronavirus pandemic. As more and more patients are diagnosed with COVID-19, hospitals are facing serious mask shortages: Some have a supply for now but anticipate they'll run out as the virus peaks, while other facilities say their mask suppliers are already neglecting to fill orders. CNN notes volunteer groups have popped up nationwide, with tutorials and instructions offered online by hospital systems and craft stores. Some health systems are even sending kits out with all needed supplies to those willing to put in the time and start stitching. "We're the ones you want around in the apocalypse," one Atlanta-area volunteer tells the outlet.

These DIY masks are a stopgap, not a panacea: Research shows that health care workers who wear cloth masks have a higher rate of infection than those who don medical-grade masks like N95 respirators. "Our findings suggest that a homemade mask should only be considered as a last resort to prevent droplet transmission from infected individuals, but it would be better than no protection," a 2013 study noted. One researcher tells CNN if a health care worker is forced to resort to cloth masks, he or she should alternate between two masks, with daily washes in hot water. The CDC also uses the words "last resort" in its suggestion that health care workers use scarves or bandannas if face masks aren't around. The AP notes the mask-making effort in the US mirrors those around the world, including in Belgium and Spain, where nuns and members of the Spanish Air Force are pitching in. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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