Face masks were already a highly-sought commodity in the fight against COVID-19.
Then earlier this month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced its recommendation that people begin wearing cloth face coverings when out in public.
Since then, more people in the Albemarle are wearing some form of face covering, from the coveted N95 respirator mask to a simple bandanna.
A cloth mask may seem like a rudimentary form of protection against the new coronavirus, the virus that causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. Yet, the CDC says cloth masks worn in addition to people practicing social distancing of at least 6 feet apart is an effective measure in slowing the virus’ spread.
Fortunately, there are local people who are handy with a thread and needle making homemade masks and supplying them where they are needed.
Faith Long, a seamstress and owner of Faithwerks Homemade Children’s Quilts, in Elizabeth City, has been sewing cloth masks for about two weeks. She began making masks after several home healthcare nurses in Virginia contacted her.
“Somebody asked if I could make them some,” Long said.
Since then she’s sewn at least 300 masks and on Wednesday she was working on another order.
“I’ve lost count after 300,” she said, laughing.
Long fashions her masks using four layers of 100 percent cotton fabric, which she says provides a good defense against the virus.
“So, with four layers you get better protection,” she said.
“I also make them with pockets for filters,” Long said, adding that filters can be purchased online at Amazon.
Not only has she provided masks for home healthcare nurses in Virginia, but also to Sentara Albemarle Medical Center, which doles them out as needed, Long said.
The masks she makes for medical workers she donates, while she also sells them to others for $5. EC Mailbox Center, located on N. Road Street in the same shopping plaza as Food Lion, carries them. On Thursday, EC mailbox owner Dawn Kidd said she was currently sold out of the masks and that Long was making more for her.
“I’m wearing one, but I’m out of them now,” Kidd said.
It’s a good feeling to know how to sew and to contribute to the community’s fight against the virus, Long said.
“It feels great to be able to help and to have the ability to do it,” she said.
One of her goals is to use all of her current inventory of fabric toward making masks. She doesn’t foresee any problems with reaching that goal.
“I’m doing pretty good right now,” she said. “I’ve used a lot.”
Long also said there are several how-to videos on YouTube and elsewhere online about the different ways people can make their own masks. It’s her hope if people are unable to purchase a mask, they will make their own, even if it’s simply a bandanna tied around the face.
“Anything is better than nothing,” she said.
Long is a one of two professional seamstresses and mask makers recently nominated as E. City Hometown Heroes, a new feature of Elizabeth City and Pasquotank County’s tourism agency Visit Elizabeth City.
The other seamstress is Lois White, who according to her nomination has donated nearly 200 masks she’s made to Sentara Albemarle Medical Center.
On Facebook, learn more about Long’s seamstress work at Faithwerks Homemade Children’s Quilts.
Another seamstress is Cara Caplinger, who lives in Chesapeake, Virginia, but has a daughter who lives in Elizabeth City.
Caplinger said she’s made about 200 masks so far, using two layers of 100 percent cotton with a thick flannel layer in between for filtration.
“That’s what the CDC recommended,” she said.
Caplinger has been making masks for medical workers and residents and brings them to her daughter, Tiffany, in Elizabeth City on Saturdays for distribution. While she takes orders for people requesting a mask, she gives priority to orders she gets from medical workers and other first-responders.
“We do those right away,” she said.
In the latter instance she donates the mask, but masks that she makes for non-medical personnel she sells for $7 and $10. If she has to ship to someone she charges $12 total, she said.
The demand for cloth masks also has put a demand on the materials needed to make them. Caplinger said the first shortage of material was the elastic used to hold the mask around the face. Next was the sewing thread and currently the fabric to make them “is going really fast.”
Caplinger said when she makes masks to be worn by infants she uses two elastic bands sewn in a crisscrossed pattern. Using two bands in that pattern keeps the mask more snug to the baby’s head, she said.
On Thursday, Albemarle Regional Health Services sent out a list of recommendations on how cloth masks should be worn.
According to ARHS, cloth masks should fit snugly but comfortably against the face, and be fastened with with ties or loops around the ears. The masks should be made of several layers of fabric, allow for unrestricted breathing and be machine-washable.
The CDC also has more information about cloth masks at its webpage, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.