April 9, 2020

Coronavirus: Bay Area sewers are making thousands of homemade masks. But will hospitals take them?

Driven by a massive gap in protective equipment for healthcare workers — and the desire to do something, anything to help fight the spreading coronavirus while stuck at home — hundreds of civic-minded sewers across the Bay Area and the country are coming together over a simple, if anachronistic, fix: Homemade masks.

As news of the nationwide mask and equipment shortage has bounced around the internet, Facebook groups like “Coronavirus Mask Makers” quickly ballooned to about 1,600 members. They trade sewing patterns, contact lists and how-to videos, likening their efforts to the at-home manufacturing of ammunition and supplies during World War II.

Hobby quilter and aesthetician Christine Hmelar, 60, of Palo Alto, had a little trouble finding a pattern at first. But she quickly found “tons of YouTube tutorials” to help her churn out double-layered cotton masks that she has given to a nurse at Kaiser in San Jose.

She uses a sewing machine to produce the masks, which take about 15 minutes each to make — after about 12 hours of cutting fabric, which Hmelar said is the tightest weave she could find. She even sourced elastic on Ebay when local stores came up short.

With her salon closed until further notice under county and state shelter-in-place orders, Hmelar said it feels good to stay busy and contribute to the cause.

“It gives me something to do for the community and medical personnel,” Hmelar said.

As well-intentioned as the efforts may be, local hospital systems, including Sutter Health and Stanford Health Care, have said that they won’t accept cloth masks as donations — because they do not meet the medical standards for personal protective equipment.

The problem comes down to cloth masks’ inability to filter out viral particles the way manufactured masks are designed to do, said Amanda Chawla, vice president of supply chain for Stanford Health Care and Stanford Children’s Health. An oft-cited 2015 study found that cloth masks led to statistically significant rates of infection compared to medical masks across 14 different hospitals — with penetration of cloth masks by particles reaching almost 97% as compared to 44% of medical masks.

Using homemade masks, Chawla said, “would be an absolute, absolute last resort. Beyond a disaster.”

But that doomsday scenario — until recently, unimaginable to many in the medical field — no longer seems like such an impossibility to some. In California, hospitals are churning through supplies, and are expected to need hundreds of millions of masks and other protective gear as the coronavirus pandemic fills emergency rooms and intensive care units.

In its guidance to hospitals regarding expected face mask shortages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that health care workers “might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort.”

Some hospitals — including Kaiser Permanente — have said they will now accept cloth masks made via specific instructions, for use as an extra layer over N-95s or during a severe shortage. Other facilities, including Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, refer to the DIY masks as “covers” …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Health


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