Sewing For Hope

April 08,2020

We are launching our Sew for Hope campaign. If you are sewing cloth masks for yourself or others, or for hospitals and clinics in need, we ask you to join this campaign, make your masks, take a picture and post on social media with the hashtag #SewForHope and share with us. Because in these times we seek and find hope in helping one another.

For more information about this campaign and how to participate, read this blog post about what you can do to help (including social distancing best practices), and finally: How you can sew and help!

As we enter this next month in the battle against the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2 and COVID-19, healthcare workers serve on the front lines of this battle while physicians and researchers search for effective treatments; and the community rallies to do what they can to flatten the curve, and prevent the overwhelming of our medical resources.

In the midst of this emergency, citizen sewers from coast-to-coast have launched campaigns to make hand-made cloth masks to protect health care workers. Some hospital systems have launched mask campaigns; other people are meeting in online sewing groups, sharing designs, and sewing to help.

The purpose of this blog post is to review the most important steps to reduce transmission and flatten the curve, discuss the role for homemade cloth masks as well as safe practices if one is going to use a cloth mask, and then make suggestions for how you can help.

What cloth masks are not. First, it is important to state what homemade cloth masks are not: They are not adequate protection for healthcare workers who are taking care of COVID-19 patients. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, the shortage of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers was well-known, and continues to be a stress point in our healthcare system. Certified PPE includes N95 respirators or a better level of protection, and only these should be used by healthcare workers on the front lines in this pandemic. However, due to the shortage of N95 respirators, on March 10 the CDC relaxed their guidelines for the use of PPE, stating that looser fitting surgical masks “are an acceptable alternative” (Washington Post, March 10). It made headlines when, in the setting of complete lack of PPE available for healthcare workers, the CDC even put out a statement that options include HCW use of homemade mask (e.g., bandanas or scarves) for care of COVID-19 patients as a last resort. However again, homemade masks are not considered PPE, as their effectiveness is unknown.

We emphasize that it is mission critical to get adequate, certified PPE to healthcare workers on the front lines, and encourage people to support these ongoing efforts by communicating with members of the government.

Second, cloth masks (and in fact all PPE) are not a substitution for measures we can take that are proven to be more effective to prevent disease transmission, on the hierarchy of controls against COVID-19. These include social isolation, staying at home, engineering controls with physical barriers, and administrative controls like working from home, hand hygiene, and are thoughtfully discussed in an excellent article on cloth masks from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health here.

What cloth masks are. So what are cloth masks and where may they play a role? When added to existing effective practices of social distancing (maintaining 6 feet between people), sheltering in place, and frequent hand hygiene, cloth masks – if used safely – may provide one more barrier against the transmission of the virus through asymptomatic or presymptomatic spread. The CDC made recommendations about wearing cloth masks when in public, and many local and state governments have taken up that call, especially given the case counts that continue to rise throughout the country. A cloth mask may help reduce the droplets we emit when coughing, sneezing, or even talking, and again, when used properly and in addition to existing recommendations, may help reduce spread from people who have the virus but are not sick from it, and further flatten the curve. Cloth masks function more to protect others from the wearer, than for the wearer to be protected from others. Watch this 3-minute video of the campaign in the Czech Republic for all citizens to wear cloth masks for this purpose. “I protect you. You protect me.”

What can you do to help? All people can continue to help by following recommendations for social distancing, washing hands, avoidance of touching your face, sheltering in place, and keeping home surfaces clean (clean your smartphone frequently, and highly used surfaces daily). Really, more than ever, it is crucial to stay home. Let this be your superpower. Follow the World Health Organization’s five steps to avoiding the coronavirus here.

However, when going out into public, wearing a mask (safely) is also an option to help reduce transmission. And, if you’re a sewist, you can definitely help!

Given the call to reduce the spread and flatten the curve, many hospitals are requesting cloth masks, and there are many patterns and resources out on the internet. When making/wearing masks, it is important that the mask has a tight fit on the face to prevent particles from getting in at the top or sides, and also so that the wearer is not always adjusting it (and touching their face). Observations about these key components led to the creation of the cloth mask design at National Jewish Health, from which you can download the pattern, design and instructions (along with FAQs) here.

We also talk on this webpage about proper use of a mask. It is important not to treat the mask like one would when wearing a scarf in winter: Don’t grab the front and pull it down to your chin, etc. Instead, treat the mask as if there are viral particles on both sides, and make sure you wash your hands before/after putting it on or taking it off, or anytime you touch it. Also try to remove it without touching the mask itself, but by touching the ties. Finally, wash it (hot water and hot air dryer, making sure it is completely dry) at the end of every day or if it becomes soiled. For more on safe cloth mask use, check out the information and video here.

You want to sew and you want to help. What are the next steps?
Find a pattern that has a good fit (including some sort of nose wire to conform to the bridge of the nose), and make masks for yourself and those who need them.
(As important as the mask itself): Take extra steps and help with education as well. Make sure you take time to share with others the purpose of the mask, and the importance of using it safely in addition emphasizing the greater importance of social distancing and hygiene practices.

Do you want to sew more and help your local hospitals? This is a great time to look online with your local hospitals, or reach out to your local doctors’ offices and hospitals and ask if they need masks, if they have a preferred type, and sew! These campaigns are happening all over the country, and just a few are listed here. Feel free to participate in these campaigns or look near you and reach out and Sew for Hope!

National Jewish Health, Denver, CO

Operation We Can Sew It – Saint Joseph Hospital and SCL Health

Community Health Network, Indianapolis, IN

Ezkanazi Health, Indianapolis, IN

Chicagoland hospitals

Thank you all for helping to flatten the curve.

FAQs:

How do I find people in need of masks? Look online for local sewing groups (chances are a project is already started near you), local calls to action from hospitals and medical centers, or other groups. Ask if they have a preferred pattern, and then sew!

Do I send my masks to Team PHenomenal Hope? No! We are asking people to respond to this call by working toward the need where they see it is needed most.

I know of a group that isn’t mentioned in your link list. Can I sew for them? Definitely! Please work with whichever group you feel most passionate about. And also please let us know so we can add them to this list.

I thought cloth masks were unsafe. Why are you doing this campaign? Remember the purpose of cloth masks, and that – if used properly – they may help reduce spread of the virus from people without symptoms, and help flatten the curve.

What does flatten the curve mean? See our COVID-19 information blog post here.

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