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Lawyers, hobbyists and even a bridal shop are making masks — and giving them away

Xiao-Yin Byrom has owned and operated Tang’s Bridal and Alterations in Manassas, Va., for 20 years. Byrom works with a team of volunteers to make face masks for first responders in the greater Washington region. (Xiao-Yin Byrom)
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Two weeks ago, a nurse walked into a Manassas bridal store, sobbing. The hospital she works for was burning through supplies while treating coronavirus patients, and masks were running out.

That’s when Xiao-Yin Byrom, the owner of Tang’s Bridal and Alterations, across the street from Prince William Medical Center, rushed to the backroom and told her staff to stop what they were working on.

“I said: ‘You know what guys? We’re making masks,’ ” Byrom told The Washington Post. “We have to do something.”

Now, Byrom and six volunteers are making 200 to 300 masks a day, she said. She’s giving away all of the masks free to first responders and anyone who is at higher risk of severe complications from the novel coronavirus.

“This is a war. We need to come together,” Byrom said. “We need to help the first responders.”

Across the District, Maryland and Virginia, seamstresses, engineers and hobbyists are crafting homemade masks to protect nurses, doctors and others on the front lines — as well as people who want protection before heading to the grocery store.

It took a few days for Byrom to design the mask after consulting with medical professionals. The final product covers a third of the face from ear to ear, and tucked inside is lining from a vacuum bag to filter out smaller air particles. She and her sewing team start working about 8 a.m., and they already have a two-week backlog of requests from local hospitals and nursing homes. As of Wednesday morning, they had made 1,281 masks.

“I said ‘You know what guys? We’re making masks,’” Byrom told The Washington Post. “We have to do something.” enough supplies for 5,000 more masks, about three weeks of work, but added that they’re already running low on filters and elastic. People have donated more filters, fabric and supplies, and Byrom organized a GoFundMe page, which had raised more than $4,000 as of Thursday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all Americans wear masks or cover their faces in public, especially at grocery stores, where social distancing can be difficult. This is to help prevent people from unknowingly spreading the virus if they’re infected but asymptomatic. Medical professionals, on the other hand, require a more sophisticated mask with as much filtration as possible because they are likely to be closely interacting with infected patients.

Read more: Answers to your DIY face mask questions, including what material you should use

One group of “craftivists” from the Washington region formed the Million Mask Challenge to make masks and N95 mask covers for health providers. The idea came together thanks to nine people who had never met before. It started on an Arlington neighborhood Facebook group that was organizing efforts to combat the coronavirus, and the conversations turned into a Zoom conference call. Now, two weeks later, the group has more than a thousand volunteers who have already made more than 20,000 masks.

Vanessa Fulton, an attorney in the District and one of the group’s co-founders, helped create the pattern the group uses for its masks. Fulton, 32, said she got involved because making 10 or so masks a night was something productive to do amid all the stress from the pandemic — and a better alternative than watching Netflix or scrolling through Facebook.

“I knew I needed a distraction, but I didn’t want to distract myself so much that I was just burying my head in the sand,” Fulton said in a telephone interview, while sewing masks. “It makes people feel empowered to be able to make something.”

Fulton said she’s been working eight-hour days volunteering for the group. As the Million Mask Challenge grows, she said she hopes it will retain the sense of community among everyone sewing masks for hospitals, nursing homes and pediatricians. On the group’s Facebook group, Fulton has been live-streaming tutorials and question-and-answer sessions to help those who are just learning so they can get involved.

“In a lot of ways, a lot of people need a community right now. We’re all isolating at home,” she added. “A lot of people feel kind of helpless, waiting for this invisible enemy to come.”

Becca AbuRakia-Einhorn, a D.C. resident who lives in Brookland, is not affiliated with the Million Mask Challenge but saw neighbors in a Facebook group asking whether anyone was making masks to sell. AbuRakia-Einhorn, 31, sews for herself and her 7-month-old son as a hobby, so she wrote back. But rather than charging, she asked them instead to make a donation to one of several D.C. nonprofit organizations.

A few Facebook messages and emails later, AbuRakia-Einhorn is preparing to make 99 masks and counting. She has received requests from as far away as Wisconsin and said she’s already helped raise hundreds of dollars for several D.C. nonprofits.

“It feels good to be helpful at this time, and useful,” AbuRakia-Einhorn said.

In Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, Maya Goldman, 11, and her mother, Amie Perl, are also making masks from home. They got the idea after hearing that Deaconess Hospital in Washington state was asking for donations. They’re working with Maya’s sewing teacher and two of her classmates to make 100 masks for health-care providers in the District.

“There aren’t many ways that kids could help during the covid-19 crisis, but I know how to sew,” Maya said over the phone. “I thought this could be my way to help out.”

Read more:

Meals on Wheels volunteers are staying home because of covid-19. College kids are filling the gap.

Here’s the good some are doing to combat the fear and isolation of the coronavirus

How to sew your own fabric mask

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