Seamstress warriors and DIY masters, your day has come.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines today advising the use of cloth face masks in public in light of new evidence that a significant number of individuals who have and are spreading the COVID-19 virus are asymptomatic.
The CDC did not, however, provide specific recommendations as to the best patterns or materials to use for DIY masks, simply stating that "cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."
During the Facebook live event held just minutes before the new official guidelines were released, Lujan Grisham also advised the use of homemade cloth face masks to help slow transmission of the virus.
"Will that prevent you from getting the virus? Will it prevent you from spreading it? I don't think the answer to either of those questions is yes…I do think it can make a difference by just slowing it up," Lujan Grisham said. She also implored New Mexicans not to purchase N95 masks or surgical masks unless they are first responders or health care workers.
Kathleen Kunkel, the Secretary of the New Mexico Department of Health, said the state will provide more detailed guidance about how to make DIY masks when they have more information from the CDC.
Lujan Grisham encouraged people willing to volunteer to make masks to contact the state.
"If you can make these masks as we get more guidance, you can go to newmexico.gov and tell us that you are willing to do those because there are going to be lots of families that won't be able to get those resources or materials together and we want to make sure that we can provide equal access," she said.
Santa Feans with sewing skills already began heeding online and community calls for handmade in the last week.
Patricia Wagner, a professional seamstress and owner at Castro Alterations, has begun to make masks out of cotton and wool felt and is selling them for between $10-12 for adults and $3-4 for children to cover cost of materials and to make up income lost due to the statewide stay-at-home order. Her husband, Peter, says the state health department allowed the business to reopen for the sole purpose of mask making.
"If we all wear them, healthcare workers can have a little bit of relief. We are all connected, and our actions impact the lives of everyone else in the community," says Nedret Gürler, one woman who has been making masks by the dozens and handing them out to anyone who needs them for free.
Gürler says she learned how to sew working in a sweatshop in Brooklyn when she first arrived to the United States as an immigrant in 1983. Now, stuck at home, she says she's happy to put her skills to use to make masks for people across the city and can barely keep up with requests. She's made over 100 small masks in recent days, and 25 N95 covers for healthcare workers. (She provided masks for the SFR staff this week.)
La Familia Medical Center has put out a call for a cloth mask drive. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Wendy Johnson says medical staff at the center are not using the donated masks themselves, but are redistributing them to "people in vulnerable positions" in the community, such as the homeless, high risk patients and people who do not have the ability to socially isolate.
Yet access to materials for masks is already being impacted by the same hoarding mentality that has left grocery store shelves bare of toilet paper and canned goods. In addition, fabric stores are not considered essential businesses and are closed.
Eva M. Ghazi, a local artist, fashion designer, and professional seamstress, says she hasn't been able to find elastic, non-woven polypropylene liner or other professional sewing supplies in stores in two weeks.
Ghazi has made dozens of masks in recent days for friends and family, and has donated masks to La Familia Medical Center's cloth mask drive.
She's starting to run out of fabric, and with stores closing, she says she will soon turn to cutting up bed sheets and linens.
Freyr Marie, another local with professional certificates in sewing and pattern design who is contributing masks to the cause, cautions folks who want to help "try not to respond from a panic or scarcity mentality."
"Talk to people who are in real need and ask them what they actually need. That's the place to start," advises Marie, acknowledging that some people have greater access than others to harm reduction strategies including social distancing, masks and hand washing.
The lack of official guidance from the CDC as to what types of materials to use and what kinds of patterns are most effective has been a source of frustration for many local mask makers.
"There are a lot of people with professional skills that could do it properly and really mass produce these masks for the everyone if we had the guidance to know how to use our time and our resources most effectively," says Ghazi, who says she's spent many hours sifting through conflicting information on the internet about what materials to use and how to construct the masks to provide the best protection.
In response to these concerns, Johnson from La Familia Medical Center says the most important things people can do to protect themselves and others is still primarily social distancing and hand washing but that any kind of DIY cloth mask made with several layers of fabric could reduce risks of transmission as long as people only wear them for a short period of time, do not take them on and off frequently, and wash them immediately after use.
For homeless people and other who do not have the ability to wash their masks, she recommends hanging them in direct sunlight for a few hours.
She herself wears a cloth mask for grocery store visits and while out in public in uncontrolled environments.
"The point of the mask is not so much to protect yourself, but to stop you from spreading the virus if you don't know that you have it. It could also stop you from unwittingly touching your face," she says.
Johnson recommends a mask pattern published for free at instructables.com for DIYers who don't have the professional skills to create their own design.
Masks can be dropped off at La Familia Medical Center's Alto street location at 1033 Alto Street.