The COVID-19 Crisis: How To Create A Medical Mask From Harlem To Harare

On March 20th, 2020, TJ Corbin, wrote for Forbes Magazine, that if you want to rally the world to your cause, think like a little bird and tweet. Hospitals and doctors are reaching out via social media to ask for mission-critical help in solving the shortage of N95-type masks during the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Rally is probably not the right word. A significant movement, perhaps even a revolution of epic noble intentions, is underway in hackerspaces, makerspaces, and sewing groups to come together and solve a problem to save lives at risk with the Coronavirus.

You can help. Today, right now. Are you sitting in your apartment or house in Harlem on lockdown? You can do something to help others. People of all ages and walks of life are diving in to make a difference.

Check out some of these amazing initiatives, both small and large:

Joost De Cock (Old Dutch for “The Cook”) started the FreeSewing Open Source Project from his home in the Netherlands to provide free sewing patterns. Recently, his wife who is a surgeon started seeing potential shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE). Joost knew what to do, so he posted it to FreeSewing in late February. People thought he was being silly as a handmade mask would never be used by professionals. (I love the brand for FreeSewing.org, by the way.)

But he was onto something when he posted: Calling all makers: Here’s a 1-page PDF facemask pattern; Now go make some and help beat this thing. I took inspiration from Joost’s call for help in the writing of my headline. Shoutout also to Katelyn Bowden who shared Joost’s post. It is her workshop photo above and she has been cranking out the DIY masks. She calls herself a “reluctant hacker” and also runs a nonprofit to help image abuse victims. She pointed me to a bunch of different resources.

If you think that a handmade N95-type mask cannot be used, think again. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a place for them — in times of crisis, like the one we are in right now. On the CDC page: Strategies for Optimizing the Supply of Facemasks, they explain that as a last resort, a homemade mask is acceptable. Frankly, we are at that stage right now.


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Here’s how they explain it in the Crisis Strategy section, When No Facemasks Are Available, Options Include:

“Healthcare personnel (HCP) use of homemade masks:

In settings where facemasks are not available, HCP might use homemade masks (e.g., bandana, scarf) for care of patients with COVID-19 as a last resort. However, homemade masks are not considered PPE, since their capability to protect HCP is unknown. Caution should be exercised when considering this option. Homemade masks should ideally be used in combination with a face shield that covers the entire front (that extends to the chin or below) and sides of the face.

It is possible that the government and manufacturers will ramp up in a wartime-like effort, but the reinforcement is more likely to come from the people. Millions of masks are needed. People are starting to make them and it is going to be a big deal.

Clearly, there is a shortage of the manufactured N95 mask. You know this. Healthcare workers know this. If you have been hoarding them, let me cut to the chase — there are people and organizations who need your extras and you can do the right thing and donate them. Get in touch with Holly Figueroa O’Reilly on Twitter — she is organizing the distribution of masks. Karen Booth is another person listing out different projects as she starts making masks herself.

Follow the hashtags #millionmaskchallenge and #millionmaskmayday and scroll through and you will find programs and projects around the USA and world.

People like Joost, Katelyn, Holly, and Karen are bringing enormous good into the world. When I asked Joost why he was doing this FreeSewing project, he pointed me to his Pledge page where he explains that all the funds that come into the project are donated to Doctors Without Borders. All of it. Why? He pointed me to that page again: “I don’t know if you’re familiar with the phrase noblesse oblige but it essentially means that privilege entails responsibility.” Then said, “I mean every word of it.”

Makers, hackers, craftspeople are awesome. Coronavirus does not stand a chance. Tweet, tweet.

Additional Resources for Open Source or Volunteer COVID-19 Projects:

One of my favorite how-to sites is Instructables. The DIY Cloth Face Mask has almost 100,000 views. It is a step-by-step instruction for those who need it. Kudos to ashevillejm.

In 2006, CDC released a Simple Respiratory Mask design using heavyweight t-shirts in its Emerging Infectious Diseases journal. More of an academic post, but some ideas in it.

A Facebook group was formed last week: Open Source COVID19 Medical Supplies. It is worth a visit — in just a few short days there are 20,000-plus members and volunteers.

If you are looking for some research and street-level testing of various materials for DIY mask-making, this post from Smart Air Filters is exceptional: What Are The Best Materials for Making DIY Masks? It also includes a few great links at the end of it.

Forbes’ editor Amy Feldman just expanded on the developing story of a team in Italy that is 3D printing respirator parts. Read it here: Meet The Italian Engineers 3D-Printing Respirator Parts For Free To Help Keep Coronavirus Patients Alive.

Bloomberg confirms that the workers and communities around them are rising up to meet this challenge: Hospital Workers Make Masks From Office Supplies Amid U.S. Shortage.

If you have a 3D Printer and have been trying out different N95 designs, then you will want to read this one from 3D Printing Media Network by Davide Sher: Copper3D organizing global campaign to 3D print antimicrobial masks on a global scale. After you read it, you will probably want to order some PLA filament from the folks at Copper3D who are making their patent-pending idea and design open source to help fight COVID-19.

Photo credit: Harlem Needle Arts (HNA).

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Harlem World Magazine is a lifestyle and brand for anyone who has a Harlem state of mind, dedicated to news, history, the renaissance and stories that celebrate our lifestyle.

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