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Can Hobbyists And Local Businesses Help With Coronavirus Protective Equipment?

As health care workers across the country report shortages of masks and other protective equipment, seamstresses and hobbyists are stepping up to help. Using online templates, people have been sewing homemade cotton masks.

Kathleen Emert is an Arizona nursing student. After reaching out to medical providers, she began organizing the donation and distribution of the masks throughout the Valley.

"These masks are typically the same template as either the surgical style with the pleats, or the accordian style that can fold over the nose and the chin," Emert said. "And there’s also a wraparound style that I’ve had a lot of great feedback with that is working. If for any reason, a healthcare provider doesn’t have something, they can still use this. We are in no way saying that this will replace current personal protective equipment standards with any facility. It is only in the event that they don’t have anything, and it’s a backup method and we’re just trying to offer that help."

The CDC lists homemade masks as a last resort because they aren’t nearly as effective as masks like the N95 face mask. Those masks are manufactured in cleanrooms with specialized materials, and they have built-in carbon air filters.

Sherri Berry is the co-founder of FABRIC, a fashion incubator that helps local designers get their products off the ground. She recommends hobbyists and seamstresses be as careful as possible while making cloth masks.

"I would suggest they really go in, if they want to make those masks, is follow that particular hospital’s recommendation very, very carefully," said Berry. "I would also encourage them to work in a very clean environment if they choose to do this. Imagine if you were asymptomatic of COVID and you’re working on these garments in your home, and you cough or sneeze, and you’re sending this into a hospital environment. So, I think people need to be very cautious."

Over the last week, the staff at FABRIC started researching what it would take to construct personal protective equipment, or PPE, at their facility. Their goal is to manufacture PPE that can be used now — and not only as a last resort.

"The N95 masks are extremely difficult to manufacture, and we do not have the equipment or expertise, or availability of the materials needed to make that to FDA standards. So, we’ve elected not to make either the N95 or the surgical masks for those reasons. We just don’t have access to the materials or the resources to be able to make them at the level that we feel is responsible to make safe and effective ones. But we can meet the standards of making gowns, which are just as much in need," Berry explained.

Berry says the main challenge in even making the gowns has been getting access to the types of fabric that meet FDA standards. Just like the actual protective equipment, the materials themselves are in short supply.

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Jaye McAuliffe is an audio and podcast producer born and raised in Tempe. Before working at KJZZ, she reported freelance stories about the intersection of art and gender. She founded the podcast We Must Ignite, a show about people from marginalized communities trying to make it in the arts.She studied at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of journalism, and she was the production director at her college radio station. She also oversaw podcasting at ASU’s student newspaper, the State Press.As a complete audio nerd, she listens to experimental noise music and records random noises in her free time.