Local Residents Join National Mask-Making Operation

COVID-19 has left healthcare workers desperate for hospital masks. Got a sewing machine?

Masks made by Arlington resident and Million Mask member Karen Gorman

This story has been updated. 

When her kids were small, Arlingtonian Dani Seltzer sewed clothes for them. She also made custom drapes and home furnishings for clients of her former interior design firm, Shay Interiors.

Now she’s one of more than 800 residents of the greater Washington, D.C.-area who are firing up their sewing machines and joining a nationwide effort to offset critical shortages of hospital masks amid the COVID-19 epidemic.

Formed a mere week ago, on March 20, the Virginia-D.C.-Maryland chapter of the Million Mask Challenge has already created and donated more than 6,700 masks to area hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing care facilities, home health aides, animal clinics and individuals. And they’re scrambling to fill orders for another 3,900 and counting.

Though the homemade masks are not a replacement for the FDA-approved N95 surgical masks that medical workers optimally need to avoid contamination, they are providing an extra level of protection that otherwise would not exist.  The Million Mask Challenge website includes video instructions and downloadable patterns for its legions of “craftivists.”

“Our group is focusing on two styles,” says Seltzer, a mother of five and head coach of the cheer and dance program at Yorktown High School. (She’s also board chair of the Arlington nonprofit Borromeo Housing, and she and her husband are partners in the Lebanese restaurant Me Jana in Clarendon.) “One is a cover for the N95, which some facilities are specifically requesting to extend the life of their existing N95s. The other is a basic mask for everyone else in situations where the CDC has advised using a bandana. Our masks are #betterthanabandana.”

Fellow organizer Christina Heatrick, also an Arlington resident, says the group now hopes to expand its efforts to include surgical caps and 3-D printed protective equipment. “There is a running challenge for pediatric-size masks for vulnerable kids who still need to enter a provider’s office to get [medical] care,” she adds.

Christina Heatrick Masks

Photo courtesy of Christina Heatrick

Heatrick and other organizers have created a GoFundMe page to raise funds for supplies, including fabric and elastic.

In addition to volunteers who are handy with a needle and thread, the massive grassroots effort has enlisted helpers in sourcing and distributing donated fabrics, fielding and coordinating requests for masks from healthcare facilities and other groups in need, and managing pickups and deliveries of masks coming off the production line. “The team of local volunteers…went from nine people who met online…to a team of over 50 organizers and coordinators in eight days,” Heatrick says.

“It really is an amazing multilayer operation,” Seltzer says. For more information, visit  facebook.com/groups/millionmaskchallenge or millionmaskchallenge.com


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