Protecting the world, one homemade mask at a time

For millions, preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus means staying home in self-isolation. But health care workers and emergency personnel run headfirst into high-risk zones.

In many cases, these people are under-equipped. The shortage of N95 masks and other personal protection equipment makes people like 25-year-old Leah Schwartz secondary fighters in this pandemic.

Schwartz, a Greater Miami resident and avid cosplayer, couldn’t sit home in isolation while front-line workers lacked the supplies needed to combat the pandemic. With a sewing machine and surplus fabric, she started working on masks for those who need them most.

Since starting her project on March 25, Schwartz has spent hours per day making masks. Once finished, she personally delivers the masks. She’s sent masks to about 10 families so far, and to some hospitals like Florida Medical Center in Sunrise. She plans to keep reaching out to as many people as she can. And to help fund her project, she’s posted a Paypal link in her Instagram biography.

Screenshot of Miyeon Yoha Choi showcasing her DIY mask from her video. (Blair Taylor/SFMN)

Schwartz isn’t the only person helping those who need it. Miyeon Yoha Choi, a South Korea native who lives in Missouri and normally creates cooking videos for her YouTube channel, decided to use her platform to post a video on how to make DIY masks.

On Facebook, a group called The Free-Mask Project — which Schwartz is also a part of — was created with the goal of getting homemade masks to those who need them. This group is over 2,200 members strong and consists of people all over the world who share Schwartz’s goal.

Dewey Jones wearing a homemade face mask. (Courtesy of Shayna Starkweather)

Many of the Facebook project’s members belong to local organizations including California-based groups American Patriots 3% (APIII-CA) and Wearing is Caring. Both groups use published DIY mask designs.

Shayna Starkweather, 28, and Dewey Jones, 32,  have been leading APIII-CA’s mask movement. They have made over 300 masks and given them to first responders, elders and home shelters across California. The online template they use employs double-layered 100% cotton as the main form of protection.

Rebecca So wearing a mask that uses K Kwong’s design. (Courtesy of Rebecca So)

Wearing is Caring was created by Hong Kong native Rebecca So, 41, who currently lives in Simi Valley, California. The organization uses an online design that was published by former professor Kenneth Kwong Si-san, who commonly goes by K Kwong. When used with two layers of Tempo tissue paper and a piece of paper towel, K Kwong’s design can offer at least N70 protection to its users. This level of protection, So said, is enough to protect users during everyday activities in low-risk environments. A more in depth description of how much protection different masks and respirators offer can be found here.

Tami Davis, who’s located in Saginaw, Michigan, is involved with the nonprofit organization 4M: Mid-Michigan Mask Makers. According to Davis, 4M has about 250 members in the area. They’ve made nearly 3,000 masks, which they’ve shipped as far as California and Florida.

“We’ve been told by friends that what we are doing is worthless,” Davis said while talking about the practicality of their masks. “We understand what we are doing is a last resort, but a barrier is a barrier.”

Dr. O, a South Florida doctor who requested to remain anonymous, has received donations from Schwartz. He found the masks to be especially useful in protecting the limited N95 masks that are available. Since the cloth masks can be easily removed and washed, it allows doctors to safely preserve the protective properties of their N95 masks.