Even before the Trump administration said people could start wearing face masks in public to stop the spread of the coronavirus, mask makers had taken matters into their own hands.
“Knowing they can’t get medical masks, people still have to get something as that first line of protection,” Collette Taylor, who runs an Etsy shop, told USA TODAY.
“People are listening to the news and just want to have that protection for them and their family.”
Senior officials at the Centers for Disease Control recommended to the White House this week that stronger guidelines were necessary to prevent the virus from spreading between asymptomatic people.
E-commerce website Etsy, which focuses on handmade items, has seen a significant demand for fabric face masks, according to company CEO Josh Silverman. On Friday, Etsy encouraged sellers on its platform to consider creating and selling face masks on their website.
“We believe that the Etsy community is uniquely positioned to address this crucial need during a global health crisis,” Silverman said in a statement. “We hope that increasing the availability of fabric, non-medical grade face masks from Etsy sellers will allow more medical and surgical masks to reach the people who need them most: front-line health care workers.”
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Taylor, who began her Etsy shop as a side business last year, started with a few orders a week for masks, but that quickly turned into high demand this month. Taylor’s shop is currently taking a break to catch up with the demand.
Amid the surge in demand, fashion designer Batani-Khalfani decided to make use of all the fabric in her house to open shop. Batani-Khalfani, who is based in Los Angeles, is making colorfully designed masks for her customers, who include health care providers.
“People, if they have to wear a mask, they want to wear a mask that looks nice and that’s still protective,” Batani-Khalfani told USA TODAY. “Nurses, police departments, hospitals from all over the country have been reaching out to me.”
Effectiveness is unknown
For health care providers, the CDC recommends that homemade masks be used as a last resort, since their capability of protection is unknown. The purpose of the masks are to protect the person and prevent the spread from the person wearing it.
“In terms of the general public, what’s being recommended is the homemade face masks,” said Pooja Agrawal, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “The efficacy of the mask is still questionable, but I think it makes people feel better.”
“The only mask that the CDC considers safe from you getting the coronavirus, the only way to actually prevent you from inhaling it, is the N-95 mask,” Capt. Michael Doyle, a U.S. Army New York National Guard physician assistant, told USA TODAY.
Big companies are also trying to meet the nationwide demand for face masks.
General Motors has partnered with the United Auto Workers to call in at least two dozen paid volunteers from its hourly workforce to make millions of face masks at its once-shuttered Warren transmission plant in Michigan.
Equipment retailer Harbor Freight also announced that it was donating its entire supply of N-95 masks to hospitals in the communities where the company has stores.
Sonia Kang decided to use her experience as a nurse and her skills in fashion design to make her own masks for health care providers. She began making the masks for her immediate family, but after posting her masks on social media and receiving inquiries from her friends, her efforts turned into a buy one, donate one initiative.
Through her children’s clothing website, Kang, based in Los Angeles, began selling her masks. She is currently shipping masks to health care facilities across the country, including the Dignity Health Northridge Medical Center.
“We’re following the CDC guidelines,” Kang said. “The masks are 100% cotton. There’s an adjustable wire for closure, and there’s a pocket for a filter to be inserted in the mask. With this initiative, you’re not only helping yourself, but you’re helping the community.”
Follow Coral Murphy on Twitter: @CoralMerfi