MA Residents Sew Last Resort Face Masks For Medical Staff

Samantha Mercado

This article originally appeared on the Weston Patch

As hospitals and medical facilities take on more patients dealing with the new coronavirus, supplies like face masks are dwindling quick. Residents have stepped up and band together to sew homemade supplies and donate them to hospitals and facilities. While the intention is noble, skeptics argue that homemade masks aren't safe for medical use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, homemade face masks can be used in crisis response when other supplies are exhausted, but it's effectiveness is unknown.

"Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face," the CDC says.

Face masks like N95 and N99 masks are preferred when used in healthcare because they have a filter that can catch high levels of virus particles, which are extremely small. Some homemade mask patterns include pockets for filters, but N95 and N99 masks are best.

Some hospitals are accepting donations, many asking for N95 and N99 masks first, but hospitals like Emerson in Concord are also accepting homemade masks in case the hospital supply is depleted. Sewists across the state are rallying together, virtually, to create, collect and donate masks.

Crafting collectives are carefully choosing patterns suggested by hospitals to sew the masks. Groups like Make Something and Gather Here are not only connecting crafters but educating them on best practices and acceptable material for mask creation.

Stephanie Cave is the organizer of the Boston-area Mask Initiative and a career quilter. A week ago, she heard the news about face masks running low in area hospitals and started chatting with other crafters to find a way to help. In almost two weeks, Cave's group has been contacted by several hospitals, nursing homes and care facilities to provide masks. The group is working on fulfilling over 2,500 requests.

"It's not just medical workers using these... we get requests from organizations working with the homeless, elderly care facilities, cafeteria workers," Cave said, "It's a real mix."

The group is working around the clock to meet the demand — Cave was picking up masks ready for donation during her phone interview with Patch.

While masks are in high demand, other personal protective equipment is also needed. In Weston, 13-year-old Maya Reczek is sewing surgical caps alongside her mother to donate to a nearby hospital. So far, Maya and her mother Elizabeth, have donated 28 caps and are working on another batch of 48 caps.

"We've got kind of an assembly line," Maya said, "My mom cuts and pins everything and I sew."

Maya Reczek shows a homemade surgical cap she sewed and plans to donate. (Credit: Elizabeth Reczek)

The pair are making time to sew the donations between school and work. Maya has virtual classes for three hours a day and said she works in sewing time before and after her classwork. Elizabeth is working her biotech job from home and puts in plenty of long hours after work, sewing caps.

"Sometimes I'll go up to my room and she'll continue — she's out there like all night doing a bunch of caps," Maya said about her mother.

For the time being, the Reczeks are keeping the project a mother-daughter initiative, but are open to getting help from some of Maya's friends. The duo, like many other crafters, said they have no definite stop-date.

"As long as people need them, we'll keep making them," Elizabeth said.

With a routine in place, Maya said her sewing skills are getting quicker and her perspective on the situation has changed.

"(At first) we wanted to make everything really perfect and it's really not about making things perfect. It's really about putting in your time, because the hospitals need these, they don't need them to be perfect or pretty," Maya said.

Elizabeth said before stores closed and she made fabric runs, she noticed the majority of people were gathering materials to make masks, a unique representation of solidarity in an uncertain time.