When Covid-19 first hit and PPE was scarce, I read online that pillowcases and sheets were good material to use for making face masks. My habit of keeping items I’ve stopped using for their intended purchase but are still good for something around the house was justified when I was able to go upstairs and grab several pillowcases, which I immediately ripped apart at the seams to use as a flat piece of cloth to cut out face masks. After I made multiple masks from the same boring, solid-colored red, blue, white and tan pillowcases I had to work with, I went online and ordered a pack of ‘quilting squares’ that were 11″ x 11″, just big enough to get one mask from each square. Then, I waited. And waited. And waited.
Late last month, the package of fabric squares finally arrived, and I picked through my assortment way more excited than I should have been, given the point of the whole thing. I took the patterns I wanted people to see and cut them for the outer layer, then cut the flowery ones I wasn’t inclined to wear anywhere and used those to line many of the masks, falling back on my old solid-colored pillowcases when I ran out of the squares.
Over the course of about two weeks (during which time I also worked on an attempt at re-opening my above-ground pool (a horror for another day!) and other outside chores common to many homeowners around the world during the summer months, I made forty-seven unique face masks. Thanks to my friend Mikey (who donated some funds to my purchase of a replacement sewing machine), I’ve now got a gently-used sewing machine that I expect will last the rest of my life to make, hopefully, something more than face masks. That remains to be seen.
I’ve been teased by my daughter Anna for years for saving things that, to her at least, had no real value. Old sheets and pillowcases from a former waterbed, or the old queen-sized ones I can’t use on my king-sized bed, have been accumulating around my house for years. Why? Well, you never know when you’ll need a drop cloth to use when painting, or to protect furniture from dust, or, now, to cut up and use to make homemade face masks. Why pay to buy something when you can just save another thing you already have until you need to use it later on? My grandmother lived through the depression, so I learned early on about saving good things while discarding the useless ones.
Try to buy cotton fabric at your local craft store – assuming it’s even open – and you’ll find that there are none in stock you’d be willing to wear on your face. I’ve placed an order on Amazon for a 70-piece bunch of quilting squares, just to make me feel less like I’m running a one-person assembly line in my kitchen. I’ve reached a point where I now must await a different Amazon delivery to complete most of the masks I’ve already made with elastic bands. I’m forced right now to use shoelaces, which I’ve also saved for years! My house is the place to be in the event of an apocalypse!
I started out intent on making just a few masks for me and my family and friends, so I knew that my mismatched assortment of solid-colored pillowcases would be more than enough material to cover those faces. My closest friends are all nurses, two of whom work in hospitals while the third works at an outpatient dialysis unit run by a national chain. My friend who works in the Pennsylvania hospital has so far reported having sufficient PPE; I don’t know if my friend who works in a New Jersey facility is having issues, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that no news is good news. The dialysis nurse, however, was working in a unit without N95 masks despite having at least five of their regular patients diagnosed with Covid-19; now that he’s agreed (for significantly higher hazard pay) to go to a Covid-19 positive facility. Although he’s now being provided with an N95 mask, he’s expected to use the same mask for an entire shift instead of changing the mask between patients, which is the standard of care for PPE.
It shouldn’t be necessary, in the richest country in the world, for random citizens to have to make cloth face masks for healthcare workers to use in place of appropriate PPE. The federal government’s purpose for being is to support us (the citizens who pay our taxes to that government) when the fecal matter hits the air moving device, and the Trump administration continues to let every one of us down. The whole point of having the federal government run point during any crisis is to simplify the work the states and local governments need to do to support us, their citizens. Having our federal government standing around with its proverbial thumb stuck up its butt is outrageous, and the administration’s lack of purpose and urgency is costing lives on a daily basis around the country!
Trump’s laziness, illiteracy and inability to care at all about anyone other than himself has been once again put on display for all to see. The PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) from the intelligence community that previous presidents actually read every morning might as well be used as fire starter for all the good it does us now. Trump not only refuses to exert himself enough to actually read the PDB every day, he doesn’t even pay attention when he’s given an oral summary of the PDB just three times a week! How is it that we are forced to keep this man in the presidency when he has made it so clear that he doesn’t have any intention of doing the peoples’ work, or really anything resembling work at all? Why do the Republicans, who are so fucking on fire to push the citizenry back to work, remain silent as their president abrogates his duty to protect us while he wastes the majority of his time watching right-wing media and having Twitter tantrums?
Trump still refuses to use the DPA (Defense Production Act) to create the billions of tests we need throughout the country in order to safely return to something that resembles normal before a vaccine is widely available. Instead, he chose to use it to force meat-packing plants that have been huge Covid-19 hotspots to reopen and recall their employees, clearly because the product is what is valuable, not the welfare of the workers. Republican-led states are threatening their citizens with cutting off their unemployment if they don’t return to work because they fear catching the virus there. Reasonable people should wonder why they don’t require employers to follow guidelines for social distancing and PPE.
If there is anyone out there who still believes that Trump and the Republicans care about anything other than their donors and their own reelections, then I hope that those deluded individuals have the foresight to prepare themselves for the “American carnage” that is going to follow as these knuckleheads throw their most vulnerable citizens forward as fodder for the virus. If the federal government had done the right thing, we would have nation-wide, science-based orders that would avoid what is surely coming in the next couple of weeks, but we have the most incompetent leader in the free-world at this time of crisis, and the Republicans are fine with things going on the way they are. This must be seen for what it is – the negligent homicide of thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens, with a disproportionate number of those most affected in communities of color, on the altar of capitalism and profit for the wealthy.
The total absence of empathy towards those most affected by this pandemic is painful to observe, as Trump continues to whine about his perceived grievances, offering just 4 ½ minutes of time since the ‘task force’ news briefings began to express something he thought was sympathy to the survivors of those who have died. His inability to recognize that he should not be forcing citizens to return to any workplace not prepared to keep them safe from this contagion is not surprising in this particular individual; his entire life has been spent in a narcissistic bubble, as he was raised by parents who never taught him that he’s not the center of the universe.
In order to give myself a feeling of control in an uncontrollable time, I keep making masks. It’s the only thing I can do to help those I love, besides staying home without human companionship. I haven’t seen my son or his wife since before this all started, and have no idea when I will. I occasionally see Anna and/or Joey, but only for a couple of minutes and usually I’m masked. I miss hugs.
I worry about my friend Rosie, a psychiatrist who preferred to be isolated even in non-Covid-19 times. I’d love to see her, but I couldn’t get her to make a plan without a pandemic, so I have no chance now. I hope she knows I’m here if she needs me.
I offer my sympathy to the thousands and thousands who have lost loved-ones to Covid-19, although I know it offers small comfort. I have to trust that the majority of us recognize that the threat from this pandemic is real, and that we will do everything possible to maintain physical distancing for the foreseeable future. That is really our best bet for avoiding magnitudes of death many times greater than we have already endured. I have to believe that because one party in our country is doing the exact opposite, and the deaths that ensue will be on their hands.
Mask the Republican’s responsibility for these deaths and you, too, become culpable. Is that really who you are?