Written by Dilber Shatursun
In the first week of April, states across the US officially began advising a practice the CDC long instructed against since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic: wearing a face mask. California did so on April 1, followed by New York City, and even Laredo, Texas. This prompted Tzu Chi volunteers across California to take action.
With their sewing machines on hand, a group of eight volunteers from Tzu Chi Northwest began cutting patterns at home and stitching together cloth masks to be distributed as rudimentary protection for healthcare and other essential workers. Altogether, they made 1,000 masks and donated them to 15 separate institutions, including the Good Samaritan Hospital in Bakersfield, CA and Fremont Hills Assisted Living in Fremont, CA.
Meanwhile, Tzu Chi volunteers based in and around Los Angeles County (where Tzu Chi USA’s national headquarters is located), also began making cloth masks from their homes. Dr. Han Huang, Executive Vice President of Tzu Chi USA, and Ivy Ho, a Tzu Chi volunteer, are currently working on importing more fabric as requests pour in, including from densely populated cities like San Francisco. But, will this help meet the need for our frontline heroes, no? The answer is: not exactly, or… sort of.
They can help keep essential workers- including those in healthcare- rudimentarily protected as they face shortages of facial coverings of all kinds. However, these home-sewn masks are not intended as a replacement for the high-in-demand N95 respirators (those that protect an individual from air particles in their environment), nor for medical-grade, surgical masks. For anyone else, they offer basic facial shielding during essential trips including to the supermarket, a laundromat, or a doctor’s office.
The masks themselves have a special design. The fabric on its exterior is splash-proof, but lined with cotton. Inside, there is a pocket to insert a filter of choice, be it a tissue, vacuum cleaner filter bag, or even a PM2.5 carbon filter. It also has a sewn in nose wire to help the mask be more form fitting over the nose bridge area, helping ensure a slightly more tight fit. The cherry on top? Just throw it in the wash and it’s ready for another use (and another, and another). Luckily, they’re essential worker approved.
As Tzu Chi volunteers and other good samaritans across the country search for creative and constructive ways to use their time at home, time will only tell how severe and disruptive the COVID-19 pandemic will become. One thing that is certain: we will need more masks for everyone, and fast.
Empower our volunteers with the materials to do more.