Real Change News: A tale of two masks

WSNA’s Executive Director Sally Watkins says that each health care institution needs to take the lead on procuring PPE. “It is the individual hospitals that are accountable to make sure they have the adequate supplies on hand for their employees,” she wrote in an email. 

The process of procuring PPE is complicated; there are issues related to suppliers in China and, according to Jacqueline Barton True of the Washington State Hospitals Association, rural areas in Washington have had a harder time gaining access to equipment because suppliers would rather fulfill orders for mass shipments to large, urban facilities. In addition, COVID-19 took time to reach rural Washington and the delayed spread from urban to rural centers also contributed to how resources were distributed. 

Just a few weeks ago, Barton True said some rural hospitals were still scrambling to get PPE, resorting to resource sharing and last-minute shuffling of equipment. But things are coming to a more manageable pace and overall Washington is stabilizing. Barton True said there is currently enough PPE, but the supply will be tested if a second wave of infection courses through in the fall or winter. 

WSNA says the situation is changing day by day throughout the state, and an ideal and sufficient response is determined by the size of individual hospitals, their staff and caseloads.

N95 masks are necessary for doctors and nurses who will be in close contact with people infected with COVID-19. But for the rest of us, a sturdy cloth mask will do. There are efforts galore to sew homemade masks. Artists are selling on Etsy and through word of mouth.

The Refugee Artisan Initiative is one collective that has focused its efforts solely on masks. Business soared after the local women’s entrepreneurship organization switched to sewing cloth masks and face shields. The organization, which recruits and trains immigrant and refugee women to be self-sustaining through sewing and jewelry making, already had a stockpile of donated bedsheets in their Lake City office and have upcycled the materials to make thousands of masks. 

Founder Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman says the artisans — all refugee women from around the world with varying levels of English proficiency — are thriving with more work than they ever had before. Some of their husbands, many of whom are dependent on a wounded gig economy, are also joining in to help. 

Just last week, RAI sent 7,000 cloth masks accompanied by thoughtful, handmade cards to frontline workers in New York. They are working on 10,000 more for Seattle and King County, with orders from Metro and the city of Seattle. It took 15 women only 10 days to sew 7,000 masks, and more are on the way from them. 

If you would like to make your own mask, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has helpful instructions

Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib’s office has created a mask challenge to encourage people to make and donate masks. The challenge will funnel donated masks to organizations that need them through a partnership with United Ways of the Pacific Northwest. These masks will help curb the spread of COVID-19 and can benefit nursing homes, grocery stores, food banks, service workers and, of course, everyone else.

Kamna Shastri is a staff reporter covering narrative and investigative stories for Real Change. She has a background in community journalism. Contact her at Twitter: @KShastri2  

Read more of the May 13-19, 2020 issue.

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