Coronavirus News

Dallas group sews coronavirus masks to fill healthcare shortage

Dallas group sews coronavirus masks to fill healthcare shortage

covid-19 coronavirus mask
Suzanne Casey displays her mask handiwork. Courtesy of Suzanne Casey

With coronavirus on the rise in Dallas and essential equipment possibly in short supply, a volunteer group has coalesced on Facebook to help fill the gap. The group page is called DFW COVID PPE Sewing Relief Group, and is one of many across the country that are pulling out their sewing machines to address a shortage of N95 and surgical masks.

PPE stands for personal protective equipment; N95 is the respirator mask which can prevent the transfer of microorganisms and body fluids. The "95" stands for the fact that it blocks least 95 percent of airborne particles.

Health care workers without protective gear can become exposed to the virus, and must then be quarantined.

President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to increase production of masks and other supplies such as respirators, ventilators, gowns, and eye protection. Unfortunately first responders are reporting shortages and are being forced to ration masks.

The DFW group was founded by Taylor Slovak, a former City Hall employee who has acquaintances in the health care field and felt driven to do something to help. The group has attracted 571 members, who run the gamut from hobbyists to professionals who own sewing-related businesses.

Slovak says she was inspired by a similar project called 100 Million Masks, and saw the public pleas made by other states who are ahead of Dallas on the coronavirus spread.

"I know the city of Dallas recognizes there's going to be a need," she says. "And with the shelter-in-place order, there might be people with time on their hands who are seeking purpose."

To clarify: Homemade masks do not match the stringent standards of the N95 mask, which is made by 3M and requires sign-off by the Food & Drug Administration. Homemade masks do not block COVID-19.

But when the options are N95 versus no mask at all, some healthcare workers are grateful for the homemade versions which at least create a barrier of some kind against droplets or splatter that may contain germs, and are superior to the bandanas and scarves some workers have used as a last resort.

It is for those workers who don't have access to N95 masks or any other options that these masks are being sewn.

The group's Facebook page is already filled with various patterns and options, but Slovak is following recommendations made by acquaintances who are in the field.

"Some studies online discuss different fabrics and best/last resort solutions," Slovak says. "My nurse friends suggested a mask design that can incorporate the use of a HEPA-style filter with hypo-allergenic or antimicrobial properties like the material used to make vacuum bags. The model we'll do is made from tightly woven cotton, which is doubled up, so that you can insert a filter."

Slovak says that the city of Dallas' COVID team is still working through logistics, which will involve things like coordinating delivery to the right place. "We don't want a ton of people dropping off masks at hospitals," she says.

Both Michaels, the Irving-based crafts chain, and Leland's Wallpaper in Irving are donating fabric. The Girl Scouts are also joining the cause, and will launch a site for their troops next week with everything they need to start sewing.

Don Morphy, the Design District menswear label, is also engaging their factories in China to sew for the cause.

Meanwhile the group has started sewing.

"One of our members, Deb Martz, who owns Chair Care Patio Furniture Repair, has designed prototypes using antimicrobial/waterproof fabrics, and is letting us use her patterns," Slovak says. "She and I have sent them to multiple council members, and the Office of Emergency Management and are waiting to hear back."

Happily, there is a demand.

"In the last six hours, we've had 25 new requests to join the group, and most were healthcare givers or facilities who want to find out how they can get access to masks," she says.