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How To Make And Donate Surgical Face Masks

The coronavirus pandemic is currently ravaging not only human bodies around the globe, but our healthcare systems. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other hospital staff are overwhelmed with new patients every day. In New York City, the epicenter of the crisis in the United States, they are low on not only staff, but also medical supplies and ventilators.

It’s easy to feel helpless during all of this. Due to social distancing mandates and city-wide quarantines, most of us are incapable of getting out there and offering our help. What’s worse, we and the people we love are susceptible to the dangers of COVID-19; just like the brave people in healthcare who are risking their lives to save ours.

But there is one thing we can do. It may sound simple, but it could also have a major impact. We can make surgical face masks from home.

I was inspired to look into this after watching One Tree Hill actress Hilarie Burton Morgan’s Instagram videos, where she sews surgical masks for her community along with her family. The videos are both charming and instructive, and will hopefully inspire many others to look into this small practice.

But if you, like me, have no sewing skills, no machine, and no idea where to donate, here’s a rundown of how to get started making homemade surgical masks—and how to get them to healthcare workers in your own communities.

Homemade surgical masks are still not ideal

An important disclaimer before we get started: Homemade fabric face masks are not as effective as the N95 filtration masks recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But while N95 masks are the ideal PPE (personal protective equipment) for hospital staff, homemade masks can be used in their absence and as a measure of last resort.

So while the following steps are still important, as many hospitals don’t even have this backup (and are resorting to even more desperate measures, as demonstrated in this recent John Oliver segment), it’s necessary to stress that N95 masks are still needed and are more protective against COVID-19. You can read more about this on the FDA website here and the CDC website here.

Make sure you also check in with your local hospitals to be sure they are accepting homemade face masks during the crisis. Some are not. You should also ask if they have any specific requirements (layers of fabric, material, etc).

Gather the proper materials

To start, be sure you’re using the most effective material. Researchers at Cambridge University (via Sarah Maker) tested the effectiveness of household materials to see what works best for homemade masks, depending on filtration. The results show that cotton fabrics—like cotton t-shirts and cotton pillowcases—work best.

Most patterns require elastic cord for homemade masks, which you can purchase online or in fabric stores. However, Amazon orders are backed up during the pandemic and it’s important to only go outside if absolutely necessary, so it’s probably best to stick to fabric ties unless you already have elastic on hand.

Find patterns and tutorials online

If you already have a sewing machine, this next part is pretty easy. There are a number of patterns online for sewing machine surgical masks. This process is speedier, and will therefore produce more masks. A number of DIY YouTube channels have tutorials. This one, from homemadeonourhomestead, shows how to sew fabric tie masks with a filter pocket and flexible nose band.

ProperFit Clothing Co. also has a great tutorial on their YouTube page and a link to purchase their pattern online.

If you don’t have a sewing machine but still want to help, Sarah Maker has this great instructional video on how to create a handmade backstitch mask. You can find the printable version of her pattern on her website here. (Thank you to Hilarie for this tip!)

Where to donate

The best way to get masks to those who need them is to call your local hospital and see if they have a shortage. Again, ask for requirements before making anything, and see if they’re taking donations. Most hospitals will not accept shipment packages of homemade masks, and request drop-offs instead. It is important to coordinate with your local hospitals before you start sewing in bulk.

If you cannot create homemmade masks and have the means, you can also donate to this GoFundMe account started by the Resilience Education Training and Innovation Center Limited (RETI). Mask Force NYC is a campaign to fast-track supplies and keep costs down to leverage the disconnect between large-scale suppliers and frontline medical staff. This will provide FDA-approved PPE to 15 health clinics and independent hospitals in New York City, the epicenter of the crisis in the United States.

Make yourself a mask while you’re at it

Though the CDC originally said there was no need for Americans to wear face masks in public, it sounds like they might revise that statement. According to a new report from The Washington Post, wearing your own mask outdoors likely won’t prevent you from catching COVID-19, but it can prevent spreading it if you’re already infected. Because the masks catch saliva droplets, the source of transmission for the coronavirus, wearing your own could keep all of us healthy. Even if you don’t think you’re infected, it’s not a bad idea to wear one; many people carry the virus but are asymptomatic.

So yes, even if your local hospitals aren’t accepting homemade masks, it’s still worth making them–for yourself, your family, or friends. We’re all in this together now, and we’ve got to do what we can to keep our loved ones and communities–and our country and planet–as safe as possible. Worst case scenario in making your own masks? You learn a new skill. Best case? You save lives. Let’s all give it a try.

Featured Image: Sarah Maker – DIY and Crafts on YouTube