Let’s talk face masks

Let’s talk face masks March 16, 2020


I have a sewing machine.

Regular readers will know that I lament not being able to put it to good use very often, especially as my days of making homemade Halloween costumes are over.  Periodically I contemplate actually putting into action the maybe-someday offer of making a cosplay costume for a friend who cosplays, but it’s logistically challenging as said friend lives in another city and we only really know each other through a Facebook group.  And I periodically contemplate getting involved with a “Days for Girls” group, in which members sew reusable sanitary pads for African girls.  (Why haven’t I?  Partly because of the usual sort of sloth, and partly because I was intimidated by the need for diligent careful sewing; unlike the “make a blanket” projects in which crafters take a piece of fleece, cut it to size, and make fringes, the measurements really have to be done with some care.)  So the last time I used my machine was when, a couple weeks ago, I hemmed my mom’s new pants.  (Yes, she is so short that the petite sizes are too big for her, and she’s no longer able to do the hemming herself.)  And it was satisfying, especially since, unlike the periodic troubles with my machine, the tension worked just right and gave a nice even stitch.  Plus, my machine is a 60s Kenmore workhorse, without all the fancy embroidery stitches but a more heavy-duty motor than your typical $100 machine now, so that it can handle bunches of layers and very thick fabric, vinyl, etc.

At the same time, well, this is an odd sort of National Crisis because we can’t come together in groups to do the sort of coming-together things that you’d expect for a National Crisis, and that’s very unsettling.  There are some people informally offering themselves as shoppers and errand-runners for people at elevated risk, and other than that, the “how to help” advice that’s floating around tends to be more along the lines of “order carryout and tip your driver.”

But also, well, it’s my understanding that one of the reasons why people in Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc., may have had a better trajectory than elsewhere is because they whip out the face mask in circumstances such as these.  I don’t really know and I’m not keen on playing armchair epidemiologist, but, eh, that’s what I’ve read anyway.  But it’s not that face masks (other than the N-95 sort) really protect people from the virus; what they do is protect others, both in the case of someone who is ill but need to leave their home anyway, and those who are infected but unaware of it (either because symptoms haven’t begun or because they happen to have a mild enough case that symptoms aren’t really noticeable and just resemble a slight cold).  I’ve also read that they reduce the degree to which wearers touch their face (I’ve also read claims to the contrary, that this increases the face-touching, but I find the former more credible).

So I’m asking myself:  what if, due to the shortage of manufactured masks, we had a community effort to get out our sewing machines and our scrap fabric from old Halloween costumes and made reusable face masks?  There are various patterns online (e.g., here and here, and a round-up of patterns here), some of which include provision for a filter (hacked with tissue) that seem they would be fit for the purpose.

The challenge is this:  would it actually be possible to introduce the practice of face mask-wearing?  If I go out in public with a (manufactured) face mask, I presume I would be perceived of as either

  • “If she’s sick, what’s she doing out in public, infecting others?!”
  • “Those face masks should be saved for medical workers!” or, in the best case,
  • “That poor immuno-compromised person forced to go out in public – and she’s not even safe because that’s not a proper mask with a respirator!”

None of those are desirable outcomes.

What if I were to say, “hey, I just made a batch of face masks, so now, fellow-parishioners, we can gather in small groups knowing we’re protected from unknowingly transmitting the virus to one another”?  Trouble is, I am not a doctor.  I have no place going beyond “this is a Thing I Have Read” to making any claims that have anything to do with medical knowledge.  For that matter, I don’t even know if it would be appropriate even if I were a doctor.  It would almost seem that I’d want the CDC or another appropriate expert group to say, “hey, feel free to make homemade face masks and, following a set of precautions which we will outline, go ahead and host your small-group prayer service or board game night” — and maybe it might include gloves (I have these in spades from Coffee & Donuts) or handwashing breaks or extra spacing for card players.

So what do you think?  In a way, it’s an attempt to find something constructive to do in response, beyond just hanging out, writing about multiemployer plans, and playing the promised game of Pandemic with the kids later today.  What are you doing to feel useful?

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