Home crafters, dance studios and even an opera company in the Midwest are sewing DIY face masks to help health care providers.

By Bryce Jones
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In Minneapolis, costume and set designers for the Minnesota Opera are using their sewing skills to turn gowns sent from a local hospital into masks. After postponing the current season’s productions, the new goal of the company is to make 1,500 masks a week.

Courtesy of Minnesota Opera

In Pleasant Hill, Iowa, Amanda Nalevanko of Becky Nalevanko’s Dance & Tumbling Studio came up with the idea of using leftover material from costumes to make masks. Since March 21, the studio (which is only able to offer online dance classes now) has stitched together over 200, giving them to whoever requests a donation.

These Midwest groups join crafters nationwide who have heard about the shortage of masks for healthcare personnel and are sewing homemade ones to donate both to healthcare professionals and to the public.

For health care professionals, homemade masks cannot substitute for  N95 respirators to protect against coronavirus—and may not even be as useful as regular surgical masks—but in settings where commercially made masks are not available or must be rationed, DIY ones do offer some benefit.

“Where face masks are not available, [healthcare personnel] might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The CDC also now recommends that cloth masks be worn in public in places where social distancing may be difficult to maintain, such as grocery stores. Because people may be infectious before they feel sick, and because a certain percentage of those with COVID-19 either have very mild symptoms or are asymptomatic, masks would help prevent those individuals from infecting others.

Karen Wright, a registered nurse in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is experiencing the mask shortage firsthand.

“We’re using them more because we have to screen everybody coming into the hospital,” she explains. “They’ve switched in certain areas of the hospital to surgical masks, and also as an added protection we’ve had a lot of donations from people who have made masks out of fabric. They’re helpful, and I think if people are concerned on their own and can make their own masks, it gives them some type of protection.”

Wright said she and her colleagues wear the homemade masks along with an isolation or surgical mask. Homemade masks are also washable and reusable (and sometimes come in fun patterns – this week she sported one with unicorns).

Complete CDC guidance on masks, including instructions on how to make both sewn and no-sew versions from home materials (such as t-shirts), can be found here.