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Davis, California

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Stop loathing masks, start making them — and leave the N95 masks for healthcare workers

Masks: a sustainable way to protect yourself, others from COVID-19

The lack of indispensable items has concerned an already panicking public amid the COVID-19 pandemic. A wave of unease has had people rushing to grocery stores and hoarding essentials under what could be months of shelter-in-place directives. While people stock up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, what they should be concerned about is the shortage of masks, especially as counties — including Yolo County — announce that face masks must be worn in public.  

For years, masks have been an essential item for our well-being and health. From fires to air pollution, masks have been there to protect us. Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, masks are dwindling in supply, forcing people to get creative.

Healthcare workers lack adequate personal protective equipment, masks included

Healthcare workers have had their own share of issues regarding mask rights, if you will. Before the unions got involved, hospitals were not allowing healthcare workers to bring masks from home or bring in any sort of protective gear that was not distributed by the hospital itself. 

One nurse, who works for Kaiser Permanente and wished to remain anonymous, cited the element of public fear as a reason for the mask shortage. 

“If people walking down the street or patients saw every health care worker with a mask on, they would start to get concerned and wonder why [they] weren’t wearing masks as well,” she said.  

The unions became involved in concern for public safety, and now hospitals are allowing facemasks brought from home and providing them if needed. They do not, however, have the resources to supply a sufficient amount of masks under the circumstances. According to a new survey, 80% of nurses say they still don’t have enough protective gear. 

The nurse explained that, under normal circumstances, healthcare providers throw away masks after a single use — which accumulates in hundreds of masks used and thrown away each day. But now, health professionals like herself are given one mask to wear for the entire day (or more, if soiled).

In order to maintain a healthy environment despite the lack of masks, healthcare providers are starting to wear N95 respirator masks with a simple mask covering to keep the N95 filter clean and long-lasting. 

As for the general public, a simple face mask, a homemade mask or even a bandana when in public will suffice. Although homemade masks and bandanas will not prevent all the particles from getting through the material, they capture the large droplets, which, the nurse explained, are the “main issue.” 

The nurse further urged that even with a face mask, staying six feet apart is vital during the pandemic. Many people simply aren’t wearing masks properly. In order to protect those around you, the mask must cover from your nose down to below the chin. 

“Once you have your mask on, it’s considered clean,” she said. “So don’t reach up and touch the mask. If say, you’re in a grocery store, and you’re touching things, then you reach up and touch your mask, it may potentially have the virus on it.” 

In order to kill the virus on clothing or masks, wash your hands and hang your mask in the sun so UV rays can kill the virus. If your mask or clothing is washable, make sure to wash right away as the virus can live on masks for about seven days. 

It is strongly advised, if not mandatory in some counties, to wear masks out in public for the health and safety of others. Masks do not necessarily protect the mask wearer, but they are meant to prevent you from spreading an unknown illness to others. Those who may be asymptomatic and unaware that they are carrying the virus are referred to as “silent carriers.” 

“The more people that wear masks, the less chance for transmission of the virus to other people from those who may not think that they’re even infected,” the nurse said. 

Do-it-yourself masks

Kyleigh Jacobs, a fourth-year biotechnology major, has been sewing masks from her own recycled material out of concern for her community, expecting nothing in return (though she did receive a lemon cake out of gratitude). 

“I’ve made at least 20 different masks for people in my community,” Jacobs said. “[Masks] help people feel safe. [They] give a lot of people I know a lot more comfort and the ability to feel safer when they go out in public.” 

Because they’re easy to make, comfortable and machine-washable, people have begun looking into making their own masks. Jacobs decided to post a step-by-step do-it-yourself (DIY) face mask tutorial on her Instagram story after requests for her masks increased.

The supplies needed are relatively easy to secure, even during the pandemic. Any emergency sewing kit has the necessary needle and thread. For the material, Jacobs has been using old T-shirts as the outer lining and a softer tablecloth for the inner lining. Hair elastics or extra cloth strips suffice for the ties. 

“I’m using old clothes and stuff that I would probably throw away if I didn’t have a need to repurpose them,” Jacobs said. “It’s also nice because [the masks] are reusable and machine washable. So you can just have one mask rather than hoarding dozens of disposable face masks.” 

Jacobs is a big advocate for sustainability and upcycling. In fact, she admitted that she began sewing as a result of her online shopping addiction. After hundreds of dollars worth of clothes that she would have otherwise thrown away, she began refurbishing the clothes herself. Jacobs described this restoration as “bringing a new life” to these perhaps forgotten items. 

“I think having reusable face masks is just one way that we can still be sustainable in a pandemic,” she said. “It’s important to use what we have, whether we’re in a pandemic or not.”

Jacobs isn’t alone in her attempts to inform others how to upcycle materials into masks — clothing brands like Free People have added instructions for DIY mask-making to their websites.

The author of Free People’s DIY mask-making instructions makes the universal struggles of the pandemic relatable on an individual level in the form of a diary entry. Witty and enticing, the post will make you want to put your laptop down and make your own mask ASAP. The article title is “Breathing new life into my old clothes. Literally.” How much more clever can you get?

Similarly to Jacobs’ DIY, Free People utilizes essentially the same materials. You can find videos on how to make your own mask with recycled material on Jacobs’ Instagram @kyleighhunterj and on the Free People website

Those who are not interested in making their own masks have turned to bandanas and winter gear to cover their mouths and noses.

The point of sheltering-in-place, staying six-feet apart and wearing a mask out in public is to flatten the curve of COVID-19 cases. By making your own mask with recycled material, a mask might even be fashionable while also sustainable. When everyone participates in flattening the curve, we can get through this pandemic together and ditch the masks once this frenzy is over. 

Written by: Sierra Jimenez — arts@theaggie.org


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