Hospitals Need Volunteers To Sew Face Masks Because Trump Says Government Ain't A Shipping Clerk

Hospitals Need Volunteers To Sew Face Masks Because Trump Says Government Ain't A Shipping Clerk

Are you crafty? Are you completely bored out of your mind in lockdown mode? Are you looking for a way to help? Well, one way you can do that is by sewing reusable face masks for hospitals around the country, because they are running out of them, and it's getting pretty serious.

On Wednesday, Trump announced that, if he deems it "necessary," he will invoke the Defense Production Act — a Korean War era law that would allow the government to commandeer factories and require them to build medical supplies. He then said that this was something he would only do in a "worst case scenario." Then, on Thursday, he said that state governors really need to be handling this, because the federal government "is not a shipping clerk." And, naturally, later that day, he got into a bidding war with state governments for necessary medical supplies, driving the cost up and making it more difficult for them to obtain these items. Nice!

So (SEW?) instead of hospitals just getting the necessary supplies they need, they are now begging volunteers who are able to sew to sew up some face masks for them. Providence Hospitals, a West Coast hospital chain, has launched the "100 Million Face Mask" challenge, requesting that volunteers come and pick up kits containing all of the supplies they need to make 100 masks (well, except for the sewing machines). The Deaconess chain of hospitals, based in the Midwest, is also requesting handmade masks and has posted a PDF pattern for making these masks, along with an instructional video on their website.


There are also now approximately 5,000 tutorials for making these masks on YouTube, some of which may be easier than others.

Reusable cloth face masks used to be the standard back in the day before the switch to the N95 masks, and they are now approved for use by the CDC by some hospital personnel while the N95 respirator masks are in short supply and must be reserved for those who need them the most.

Via the Centers for Disease Control:

Updated PPE recommendations for the care of patients with known or suspected COVID-19:

Based on local and regional situational analysis of PPE supplies, facemasks are an acceptable alternative when the supply chain of respirators cannot meet the demand. During this time, available respirators should be prioritized for procedures that are likely to generate respiratory aerosols, which would pose the highest exposure risk to HCP.

- Facemasks protect the wearer from splashes and sprays.
- Respirators, which filter inspired air, offer respiratory protection

When the supply chain is restored, facilities with a respiratory protection program should return to use of respirators for patients with known or suspected COVID-19. Facilities that do not currently have a respiratory protection program, but care for patients infected with pathogens for which a respirator is recommended, should implement a respiratory protection program.

Luckily, a recent study has shown that these masks can be just as effective as N95 respirators in preventing the flu, so maybe it will work just as well for this. We hope.

The frustrating thing here is that the government knew that we didn't have enough of these things, that we didn't have enough medical supplies to get us through something like this, and they didn't do anything about it before. For nearly two decades, intelligence agencies have been warning us about this, especially in the last two years. We knew we didn't have enough ventilators and we knew we didn't have enough masks. And here we are now! Needing ventilators and needing masks, and not having enough of them.

While it's nice that people are volunteering, of course, perhaps we might also consider paying people to do this work as well, given how many people are getting laid off and are in need of income? A hundred years ago, a very common occupation for immigrant women was being a pieceworker or homeworker, meaning that instead of working in a factory, they sewed clothes at home in their own kitchens. They were paid for that work, and certainly our for-profit health care industry can pay people to do this work. This is obviously not a perfect or great solution to any of this, but it's certainly something.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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