Thursday, March 26, 2020

Woodworkers, Makers, and those who Sew - Give up Your Gloves and Masks Locally

I have been having a private conversation with people who are in my classes on an online forum of late.  I will not bore you with all the details, but in my former profession, I worked on haz-mat gear for soldiers for bio-terrorism among other things.  So people I knew in my former life have been contacting me from areas of high need for personal protective gear to ask me opinions about substitutions, making PPE at home, jury-rigging stuff, etc.   
The landscape is bleak.  I have dug out many resources but there are several short term things that we can do this minute that would drastically change the course of what is going on at hospitals with little effort on our parts.  Right now we are facing imminent exhaustion of PPE resources and a lag until more commercial operations increases in production can reach hospitals.  In fact, there are some horrific issues in the supply chain that will cause lapses coming soon.  Read this Boston Globe article about how 75% of the worlds gloves are made in one country and they are going to 50% production because of cornavirus loose in their population.  
There is no doubt that many of us have those flimsy surgical masks in our horde.  Anyone afraid during the H1N1 or SARS scare may have bought a box.  I did.  In fact one church in Manhattan suddenly realized they had 5,000 N95 masks they ordered during the SARS scare years ago and found them.  Or maybe you were aware and got some earlier this year when you realized it was getting out of control in China.  Understandable.  But now we are at the front lines.
Don't give the cotton masks you are making to the hospital workers who are 100% going to be in the presence of huge viral loads.  It is these over-exposure levels that is getting them sick and not somewhat sick - they are becoming critically ill fast because instead of fighting off 2 viruses they got 2000 into their nose.  Give them the best stuff you have and save the cotton masks you make for yourself.  Give the cotton masks to the UPS driver, the postal worker, the UberEats person, the grocery worker, etc.  Hand them out willy nilly.  Give them $10 for delivering your food and a stack of home made masks.
You will need something in front of your face in the very unlikely case you walk into a recent cough cloud.  Through my reading the most protective use of a mask in the general public is actually to keep you from rubbing your mouth or nose with your fingers that have been contaminated from a surface.  It is just a light barrier need.  So in that case, the cotton home-sewn mask does its job keeping the virus from transferring to the mucus membranes of your face.  The same if you have a member of the family get sick.  The purpose is to have the cough aerosol prevented from being sprayed into the room.  Having a stack of a dozen of the ones you made is great - one at all times on the sick person and you wear one when going into their room.   Wash them frequently.  Even if all it does is reduce the number of viruses you catch to get you sick - you will likely have a lower grade infection that is survivable.  But the nurse who has to stand there with the sickest patient needs the disposable high filtration mask to not only stay well to care for people but also to survive. 
If we all give up even half of the box of surgical masks bought out of care for our families - think of the supply for hospitals that would materialize overnight.
I read a well done article yesterday from an infectious disease specialist.  They said that South Korea and Singapore have done a good job of flattening the curve because of a few things that their societies do because of hard lessons learned in the last several epidemics.  
1) In these times EVERYONE wears a mask - it is the socially responsible things to do.   And as their cultures are predicated on communal behavior instead of individualism - it works.  It is a cliche here that people of asian decent wear masks and we all look at them for being weird.   They are being smart and thinking about everyone around them - they aren't sick - they are willing to be ostracized in America for the greater good because culturally caring for the greater good is the highest form of humanity.  They know that there are walking spreaders and that people unknowingly are the spreader or come in contact with them.   If everyone wears a cotton mask - then so will the sick people.  Transmission goes way down.   Honestly - this practice is the only way we will be getting back to work and out of our houses until we have a vaccine that has been used on most of the population.
2) The sick don't stay in their homes, they are moved to 'dorm' clinic settings to be isolated and monitored by nurses.  If someone in the home gets it - the whole family gets it.  That is the majority of cases in all countries right now.  In Boston they are already identifying which dormitories from colleges have the right ventilation systems, plumbing, etc to do this. 
A N95 mask - usually from 3M used for dust
Most needleworkers know other people who make things - the most likely candidate is your home woodworker.  Go into their stash and start looking.  I know all this stuff and we were looking for some wood pen blanks Sunday that we knew we bought some 10 years ago (bought a lathe to keep kid busy during this).  I found 12 - a DOZEN - 3M N95 masks that are gold at the moment.  I didn't even know I had them as they are forgettable.  Dust masks for woodworking are what they are using - that is the most protective mask there is.
The reason there are some more N95 masks on the way to NYC right now is because of FDA rule changes.  Previously if you were making these masks, they would only be accepted into  a hospital if they were made on a FDA certified manufacturing line.  If you wanted your product that was the same to be cheeper, you didn't have the line FDA certified with extra controls to make sure they were 100% sterile.  Same product.  So now, hospitals are allowed to use the ones that are coming off the line for contractors, woodworkers, etc.  So FIND the 2-5 you have in your house and give them up!!  Talk to anyone you know who might have some and get them to drop them off.  You are saving lives.
And I found an unopened box of 100 nitrile gloves he had for wood finishing.  Then I started thinking about where else I might have dust masks squirreled away and came up with a few more.  My robot mom on the front lines at Children's hospital almost cried when I called her.  I rushed them over to her house and dropped them in the garage.  Hairdresses, construction workers, dentists, bio labs, woodworkers - all these professionals and more HAVE THESE THINGS laying on the shelves.  Stop making cotton masks that are 28% effective (yes, better than nothing) and shake this stuff that is 100% what they need out of the trees first and then go back to making masks.   In Boston we have started doing that and they are showing up in boxloads.  I told that to the ER nurse who is a robot mom and trying to figure out how to make masks on Friday night.  She posted to the town mom's discussion group how desperate they are.  On Sunday she called me crying as her lawn was full of personal protective gear that came from nowhere.  Yesterday a truckload of gathered PPE was delivered to Mass General from the bio-labs in the area.   Honestly there shouldn't be a dentist office anywhere with anything in stock except a few items kept back for emergency procedures - it should all be trucked to the local hospital.  Same with orthodontists, etc.  My UPS guy told me two weeks ago (the last time I would open the door) that he was mad that people were hoarding.  He delivered 19,000 rubber gloves to just one dentist that week.   That dentist had better drive them all over to the hospital.  
If you find boxes that are open and are concerned that they are a bit dusty.  Think if  you were a doctor or your son or daughter was a nurse?   Would you care?  If you think they would - give the box to your local supermarket, those cashers need them.  If people working jobs in food distribution don't feel safe enough, they won't show up and our distribution system will grind to a halt.  Give them a sewn mask while you are at it as well so they don't scratch their nose with the gloved hand.
The 3D printed headband for face shields -
a temporary solution in the 1-2 weeks between
exhaustion of supply and commercial
supply ramping up.  The ties, foam piece
and clear shield needs to be added
We all want to do something helpful - be smart about it.  Everyone with a 3D printer and a sewing machine is trying something - but usually without the basic knowledge of the science behind masks.  (That link was the National Academy of Sciences report on the shortage of PPE in the SARS epidemic).  Many of the good will efforts are going in the wrong direction.  Of the PPE gear for a hospital, it is the disposable face shield that has the most potential to be made using 3D printing.  We have been working with a local emergency room nurse who is also another robot coach and got the rest fo the materials donated to fabricate them.  We are printing non stop here and are up to 30 shields now since Sunday and local hospitals are accepting them.   We know they will only be needed until companies like Bauer get their ramp up done and are delivering.

So please focus on calling that woodworker, contractor, dentist, hairdresser, etc you know and get them to pull out dust masks and gloves.  And start wearing your mask, make it a fashion statement.  I might embroider the edges of mine.


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful article. If only more of us would heed the call.

  2. I found 2 N95 masks but our hospital wouldn’t take them because the package was opened. I should have found a nurse! Never thought of that. ☹️