Demand for masks leads to creation for makers

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Social distancing, particularly an emphasis on “maintaining 6-feet” of space between people “remains important to slowing the spread” of COVID-19, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

While the population of the United States has known about social distancing since March, the use of face masks to stop the spread has become more prevalent locally in recent weeks, particularly since “the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms” according to the CDC.

This means that consumer mask products are hard to find, or require major money. Some people have taken face-mask making into their own hands by sewing fabric versions of the ones commonly seen in hospitals.

Maria VanBemmel decided she needed to do something about it. 

VanBemmel runs her own business sewing Mickey ears, usually those who want to go to Disneyland, but once the Disney Parks closed she had a lot of leftover fabric. But everything changed once she saw the call to give masks to those on the front lines more masks. 

“We need everybody that can make them and …. Perfect. I’ll donate everything I have on hand …And I did.” VanBemmel said. 

The Disney ear-making business became a mask-making business overnight.

Her first batch she donated 50 of them to nurses who work in places like San Joaquin General, Dameron Hospital, Dameron Social Services and St. Joseph’s Medical Center, among others. After that she started selling, but some customers started not only buying masks,but donating money so she can keep giving masks away for free.

“With them giving back like that I’m able to purchase more,” VanBemmel said. “And I will sew all night so they have something in the morning. Because they’re scared.”

Making masks for anyone in a medical profession have very specific guidelines put in place by the CDC to follow, which meant VanBemmel really had to do her homework to follow the guidelines.

“As the days go by, I go back and check on it, and then I will literally change the design based on the CDC’s recommendations,” she said.

VanBemmel delivers her masks two ways: she’ll either leave them in her mailbox and have customers come pick up their orders with a half an hour difference between them so she can disinfect the box and put in the next package. 

“I had to schedule it that way, because I’m also trying to respect their social distancing toward one another,” she said.

The CDC recommended polypropylene as a better protective barrier material for masks to keep out germs, so Maria looked up everything she could about polypropylene so she could get a better understanding about the material. Polypropylene is the type of material usually found in couches. It can be a better barrier against germs. The polypropylene can’t get there fast enough since her orders for masks come so rapidly, so she had to use another CDC recommended material. 

The other CDC recommended item, vacuum hepa filter bags, which also helps as a protective barrier against germs. The bags are cut and put in the masks as protective barriers against germs.  

Patrica Rutan, a professor of Drama 10 at Delta College is also making masks. 

Rutan started on April 9, making around 20 or so masks for her household and some friends. An old high school friend was in need of some masks. So Rutan sat down, got to work and mailed them to her. 

She currently sticks to two styles: a folded style similar to surgical masks; and a more stronger type, similar to a dust mask. She uses batik fabric because the fabric has a tighter weave than cotton. 

Rutan said she doesn’t think the effort involved is too out of the ordinary.

“I know other people have made far, far more masks than I have,” Rutan said. “What I’ve done isn’t exceptional … When someone says they need them I can sit down at my machine and sew them for an hour or two and get a few done.” 

Shirlene Bridgewater is a foster parent and a caregiver to those who are the most vulnerable to the virus. Since the shortage of masks, she has decided to make them herself with the help of a young assistant. 

“I didn’t think the demand would be this great but I love making them, giving us both something to do,” she said.

Bridgwater said she wishes she could do more by helping at a much larger scale but with so little help she can only do so much. Even so, she’s happy to help as she can. She is currently selling masks $5 per mask through Facebook, but due to the high demand, she has currently stopped taking requests to fill orders.