Masks, Haircuts, Worries – today’s coronavirus reflections

Masks, Haircuts, Worries – today’s coronavirus reflections April 7, 2020
fabric face mask
A pile of pinned face masks, waiting for the next step, own work

So when I last visited this blogging editor, I complained about people making accusations of “euthanasia” towards others who worried about the economic impacts of our response to COVID-19.  As time passes, I continue to worry, and my concerns increase, about the economic impact of our COVID response.

You probably know the drill:  projections of chaos in hospitals, of old folks being denied ventilators, of patients being triaged, and worse, are not coming to pass.  Elective surgeries have been cancelled (and elective, by the way, means not just knee replacements but cancer biopsies and other medical treatments the postponement of which causes real harm to people) to clear out hospitals but they, in turn, are not clogged with patients, and we’re varyingly told that this is because the worst is yet to come, or that this less-than-worst-case situation is due to the shut-down we’re experiencing, and proof that it’s saved lives — but it’s also the case that the mathematical model being used to project deaths and hospitalizations is, well, a single model, which hasn’t been scrutinized in a “peer review” sort of manner, so we don’t really know how valid it is.  (Sorry for the lack of links in the above.  But here’s a link to the model everyone’s talking about, and the closest to a discussion of methodology is a paper in which they discuss their calculations; it’s all a black box which we are called on to trust, and this may be Standard Operating Procedures for this sort of forecasting and other academics may not have a robust culture of “verifying others’ calculations” because of the push to do your own, novel work, but this matters a lot more than your generic data analysis.)

And of greater concern to me than the use of a model that hasn’t been thoroughly scrutinized, is the fact that we have a government chock-full of Representatives and Senators who really have no idea how to respond to this.  They are neither economists nor epidemiologists, but they are political ideologues.   The House version of the “round 3” bill, abandoned in favor of the Senate CARES Act, included such choice items as a “cash for clunker aircraft,” mandates for $15 per hour pay and employee-elected board members.  The final version of the bill provided for 4 months of bonus unemployment benefits of $600/week (that’s equivalent to $15 per hour), not “up to one’s prior salary” but in addition to other benefits without regard for prior salary, so that very large numbers of people will “earn” more by remaining unemployed.  I already saw an acquaintance vent on Facebook that her small business is at risk — due to lack of work and inability to pay employees, she had sent them home, but she needs to be able to rehire them, that is, put them back on the payroll even if they don’t work, in order to qualify for the small-business loan forgiveness program.  If they refuse to come back because they’d rather collect the higher amount from the government, then she can’t meet the “keep payroll unchanged” requirement, she can’t pay back the loan that is no longer forgiveable because she doesn’t meet the requirements, and that’s one more small business that folds.  (To be honest, the only small sliver of a silver lining that I see in this is that the $600 per week benefit has so many undesirable impacts on the labor market that Congress is chastened and recognizes that its actions can have really awful consequences quite the opposite of their intentions.)

All of which brings me to a haircut — namely, that of Mayor Lightfoot:

Mayor Lori Lightfoot defended getting a haircut over the weekend even though barbers and stylists were shut down under the state’s stay-at-home order, saying she’s the face of the city and the woman who cut her hair wore a mask.

Asked about photos on social media showing her with a stylist, Lightfoot acknowledged getting a haircut, then said the public cares more about other issues. . . .

In response to a follow-up question, she said, “The woman who cut my hair had a mask and gloves on so we are, I am practicing what I’m preaching.” . . . .

a visibly annoyed Lightfoot said, “I’m the public face of this city. I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye.

“I’m a person who, I take my personal hygiene very seriously. As I said, I felt like I needed to have a haircut,” Lightfoot said. “I’m not able to do that myself, so I got a haircut. You want to talk more about that?”

Which causes a Facebook-friend who normally posts pictures of girls’ nights out, to rant — because she is a hair stylist who is unable to work.

Because, of course, if it is safe and appropriate and “practicing what [she’s] preaching” for Lightfoot to get a haircut if the stylist has a mask and gloves (did Lightfoot wear a mask as well?), then why wouldn’t it be safe and appropriate for my Facebook-friend to cut hair of those who are less politically powerful, taking the same precautions?

Which gets me to face masks.  I’d already given some to the staff at mom and dad’s assisted living community, and a smattering of other people in the community (some for a local pediatrician and her staff, some for a friend who works in an “essential business,” some for grocery-store workers).  Sunday night a friend gave me a sheet which had been downgraded from family use due to stains but was otherwise in good condition (as opposed to sheets in my household which get downgraded when they’re so threadbare they wouldn’t make for appropriate masks) and which, unlike the other fabric I had at hand, didn’t have flowers or other “cute” designs, but was just a neutral grey, and I spent yesterday cutting and sewing and, well, I don’t have any masks that are finished yet, but I have 8 that are nearly done, and another 12 ready-to-sew.

And my plan for these is not to add them to the collections various doctors’ offices, retirement communities, and elsewhere, are undertaking — my intention is, when I have enough finished, to get these out to the community in some fashion, say, people in the city who have “essential” jobs and especially those who need to take mass transit to get there.  I haven’t quite figured this out yet, but I am increasingly convinced that the only way we get to the other side of the shut-down is through mask wearing — both insofar as routine public mask-wearing reduces transmission and because it convinces politicians that this is a potential path forward, if they see people doing so.  At some point these masks would come from factories, but right now the focus is on producing items for medical use.  To be honest, I’m even concerned that if public fabric-face-mask wearing does not become the norm through home sewers, then the supplies made for healthcare workers, once that need is met through mass-produced products, are at risk of being discarded by hospitals and other insitutions who can’t think beyond their first use and who are accustomed to everything being disposable.

When it comes down to it — I can write an article on retirement and hope for some readership, and that’s coming later today, but I can’t write an article saying “mask-wearing by the general public, to the best of my understanding, offers the best hope as a path foward towards regaining some normalcy rather than a complete destruction of people’s livelihoods” and expect it to get particularly many readers.  So I sew.  Slowly and painfully, to be sure, with, it seems, endless struggles with getting the machine to work, and picking out seams when the tension unexpectedly goes haywire, and repeatedly looking for places I may have missed oiling, and adjustments I can make, but it’s about the only meaningful thing I can do at the moment.

And with that, I open the comments up with the question:  how are you being affected?


P.S.  For my own family, I was fortunate to get some Marvel-print fabric at Walmart while they still had 100% cotton in stock.  And it was pretty much luck that it ended up with Iron Man at the center; my focus was getting as much from the fat quarter as possible.  For the interested, I used the “Deaconess” pattern but with ties rather than elastic and with a variation described in this video which has a pocket to insert a filter rather than just relying on layers of fabric.


fabric face mask

own work

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