Volunteers, businesses make fabric masks to protect health workers facing shortages

While N95 facemasks are the most effective, the CDC says hospitals may use fabric masks to protect health care workers

As medical supplies grow scarcer in the face of the spreading coronavirus, health care workers on the frontline are most at risk.

One mom in Michigan told The Associated Press her daughter, a nurse, had been required to keep the same medical mask on for her entire shift. "If nurses quit or become too fatigued or even become ill themselves, then we don't have a frontline anymore," the concerned mom said.

Individuals and businesses are teaming up to create a global army of seamstresses committed to producing high-quality handmade masks to support weary health care workers.


Briana Danyele, a fashion designer, spends her social distancing days sewing hundreds of fabric facemasks embroidered with the words “We Got This!” in English and Spanish.

“If I’m one person creating 200 masks, imagine what we all could do,” said Danyele, 24. “It’s super sad that we’re at this point, but this is encouraging.”

Meanwhile, cotton undergarment company Hanes has converted some of its factories to produce 1.5 million fabric facemasks a week, according to Today.

"Prior to modern disposable masks, washable fabric masks were standard use for hospitals," said Dawn Rogers, MSN from Deaconess Hospital. "We will be able to sterilize these masks and use them repeatedly as needed. While it's less than ideal, we want to do our best to protect our staff and patients during this pandemic."

The CDC recently updated guidelines asking hospital workers to implement the extended use of masks, defined as "the practice of wearing the same facemask for repeated close contact encounters with several different patients, without removing the facemask between patient encounters."

"In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort." — CDC

Company-produced masks, such as the ones Hanes is making, will be a step up from a simple scarf or bandana. Their design has been FDA-approved for use in cases when an N95 mask is not available.

»MORE: Surgeon general urges the public to stop buying facemasks

Atlanta-based company LUVU Brands, a lifestyle and furniture manufacturer, is rebooting its operations to create medical-grade masks.

"In response to the growing COVID-19 crisis, last week I directed my product design team to develop a medical face mask that we could produce in high-volume from readily available materials. That mask is now in production and we are ramping up. They are made with a removable 5-layer carbon-infused PM 2.5 filter insert, they fit closely over the face and are held in place by two adjustable elastic straps with a metal adjuster on the nose. They are intended for reuse and can be washed in hot water." — Louis Friedman, LUVU CEO

LUVU is also producing “overlay masks” intended to be worn over an N95 mask to extend their life.

Many other companies and casual groups have geared up to produce masks for the health care industry.

Zara has begun producing masks in its parent company's headquarters in Spain. French luxury company The Kering Group will import masks from China and make its own in factories. A woman in Belgium started a Facebook group of mask-makers that grew to 5,800 members as of Tuesday. Even "Project Runway" fashion designer Christian Siriano volunteered his time to sew masks from his studio in New York, an epicenter of the coronavirus.

Joann craft stores are offering free supplies and classes to those who will give the masks to support medical personnel, WXYZ reported.

If you'd like to join the movement and sew masks to donate, Deaconess Hospital in Indiana posted a popular YouTube tutorial when faced with a potential medical-grade mask shortage.

The response has been so high at Deaconess Hospital that spokeswoman Pam Hight told people to save them for their own communities.

"We had people who wanted to ship them to us from all over the United States and we started saying, 'Please, please use them in your communities.' It makes your heart warm; people are so good." — Hight

»RELATED: Georgia hospitals short on supplies put mask-making templates online

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