Masks in the Time of COVID-19

No agreement existed about the benefits of masks early in this pandemic, and conflicting advice confused everyone. But now the science is clear – face coverings provide a serious impediment to the spread of the coronavirus. It’s both considerate to others and safer to wear one.

It seems tedious and disheartening and idiotic that this has become another national divide. If we now announce our political leaning by our PPE, I’m glad to be on the common sense, science-supported side of the debate. (And I don’t have antibodies – whatever felled me in March didn’t give me superblood.)

In this interesting discussion of mask wearing by Rachel Sugar, writing in Vox, psychologists weigh in on the social ramifications of losing easy smiles and revealing only the top of faces (where we signal anger and fear), and designers discuss masks as fashion statements in our sure-to-be-mask-wearing future. (https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/6/8/21279725/masks-face-psychology)

I’m still making masks – more than 200 now, thanks to fabric from my generous Alaska neighbor – working through her second stash of colorful patterns, including grizzly bears and moose. Through the Lt. Governor’s initiative, I mostly send to Volunteer Kitsap, which coordinates helping organizations in this part of the state.

And friends still request them. Right at the start of the Black Lives Matter protests a friend asked for six more masks, and offered a donation to a favorite cause in return. She contributed to a Go Fund Me for a vandalized Atlanta dress shop, and her sister, who received some of the masks, also donated – to a protest bail fund. Another friend sent to Obama’s Meet Anguish With Action fund.

That seems a good circle.

When they send photos, it’s fun to see how people wear the masks. Cotton masks wash well (and help eliminate some of the mounds of waste generated by disposable masks) – but can offer a conundrum for comfort. With a label I tried to explain how to determine which side up and out for best fit over one’s nose.

And the ties present difficulties (but also launder better than elastic, which is still rationed at our fabric store). People adapt – ponytail or bun wearers do best, top string tied jauntily on top, and a friend wears his with the top tie over his ears then both ties fastened low down on the back of his head.

A useful and clever suggestion comes from a teenager (of course). Her mother showed her the masks, she said, “that won’t work,” and proceeded to knot permanent ear loops exactly to fit her – then tie both strings at the back of her head under a shiny teenage mane!

 

Sewing in the Time of COVID-19

Way back in The Before Times, in early January, time of resolutions and plans for the new year, I thought I would like to sew more. Thinking about how much I loved it – from the time I learned at 14, taught by my mother’s friend, through years of clothes making (my woolen wedding dress), screen-printed quilts, various Christmas ornaments, pillows, repairs, curtains, up to Sweet B’s cloak last Christmas. My 50-year old Singer, a gift from my husband when first we married, has stitched valiantly through all kinds of fabric.

But I had no idea what 2020 would offer by way of sewing opportunity! Since I began to get better, I’ve been making masks. I began for the Californians – using this Kaiser Permanente pattern and video: (https://about.kaiserpermanente.org/content/dam/internet/kp/comms/import/uploads/2020/03/02_COVID_Mask-Instructions_v9.pdf

I quickly used up all my stash – fabric I never thought would get used – and had to piece the ties from short lengths and mismatched patterns.

But now I have a bonanza! My old neighbor, generous-hearted owner of the Anchorage shops, Cabin Fever and Quilted Raven, sent me a dream stash! It arrived last Thursday – a bulging, large flat rate box delivered to the doorstep by our mailman (wearing one of my first masks, I was tickled to see).

It’s remarkable fabric, tightly woven with patterns whimsical and beautiful – a s’mores and a campfire print, multiple, colorful patterned Batiks suggesting frost, fish, or flowers, an eagle soaring over conifers, and blueberries!

I smiled hugely at the blueberries. On my first foray into the world – nearly four weeks since symptom onset and nine days past fever – I geared up and went to the grocery store! The precautions there are impressive, and most all the employees wore masks (a flowered one on the woman who mans the floral department). The Town & Country Markets network had put out a call for 1800 cloth masks, and I delivered my first 10.

After all that time of sickness and inactivity, and knowing there is so little to be done except for staying home, it feels great to be making. I probably would have been a bandage roller back in the day. This is close. Grocery store workers, delivery people, and mail carriers, come right behind the real front lines – the medical people and hospital custodial staffs. With no job to do at home or children to teach and entertain, I’m available – and it’s rewarding to work hard all day toward a goal.

I’m slow but try to be efficient, working in sets of ten, production line style. I’ve learned that to speed things up, you can sew the pleated side of the masks all in a row, and a pin in the ironing board the width of the tie’s turned-over edges makes that task quicker. Exploring this wonderland of fabric brings pleasure to the undertaking.

Queen Elizabeth’s speech moved me. No matter our useless head of state who tries to make the claim, the Queen has the best words. Encouragement for the future: “We will be with our families again, we will be with our friends again, we will meet again.” And inspiration for now: “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge.”

It’s becoming more clear every day how much safer we privileged people are during this pandemic – time and space and health or health resources. Lady Gaga made me cry announcing her concert for kindness (https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-52199537), her way to support medical workers and those struggling in the face of the virus.

Maybe sewing helps too.