By Shanee Edwards
From desperate pleas on social media by doctors and nurses to widespread news reports on shortages, it’s no secret that medical workers are in dire need of PPE, or personal protective equipment, like N95 masks and face shields.
As Los Angeles heads into another critical week for the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for face masks for all — not just health care professionals — has become even more acute.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an order requiring all nonmedical essential workers to wear face masks on the job to slow the spread of COVID-19. And starting Friday, all LA residents will be expected to wear face masks when going out to do business, too, according to the measure. (Though public health officials have urged people to leave the medical-grade face masks for the pros.)
While the state of California just stepped in to purchase more than 200 million medical-grade masks, some clever Westsiders — including costume designers, quilters, a dentist, community college professors and an altruistic city worker — are using the resources they have at hand to fill demand now for those on the front lines of the pandemic and help protect the most vulnerable among us.
‘Sew’ You Think You Can Dance
Nancy Drake is the Wardrobe Director for the Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica. She was supposed to be overseeing costume production for their spring show, a gala to celebrate iconic ballerina Patricia Neary, when all performances were canceled.
Drake learned of the face mask shortage when she saw videos of people making masks out of random office supplies.
“They were using the most absurd materials,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’ve got 20 or 30 skilled seamstresses and at least 10 sewing machines that are currently sitting idle.’ The whole reason we are here is to give to the community. So we decided to make face masks instead of ballet costumes.”
For the first time, instead of making elaborately frilled and feathered costumes and tutus, like the ones featured in Westside Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” the costume team is making personal protective equipment in the form of face masks. Drake’s team includes 12 wardrobe department parent volunteers plus their dancer helpers. Over 200 colorful masks have been donated to Meals on Wheels and the Pacific Clinic so far.
Westside Ballet’s masks are made with layers of vibrant cotton fabric and HEPA filters that you find in air conditioners. They’ve also repurposed dental bib material, which behaves like fabric while not allowing penetration by droplets.
One perk of having face masks made by costumers is that they look great.
“We delight in making things beautiful,” says Drake.
Many Hands Make Light Work
Local quilting group Quilt from the Heart typically meets twice a month at the Mar Vista Library to make artisan quilts for people in need.
“Sometimes it’s homeless shelters, churches, foster kids or fire victims,” says Playa Vista resident Patti Londre, who’s been with the group for over two years. Unable to meet due to the Safer at Home order, the group decided to use their skills at home to make face masks.
Londre describes quilters as “obsessive” people who have stacks of unused fabric in their studios or garages. After one member of the group sourced plenty of elastic, the next mission was to wash and iron large quantities of fabric. Help came from Amin Amersi, owner of Hollyway Cleaners in Playa Vista, who agreed to wash and press the fabric for free.
Londre then prepared bags of material, leaving them on her porch for members of the group to pick up and cut out the masks at home using a pattern found on the internet. The third task was sewing them. In just four days, hundreds of cloth masks were delivered to St. Jude Hospital, assisted living facilities in Mar Vista, and the LAPD.
“The pattern we are using is recommended by the CDC and has an opening on the side that allows medical facilities to insert a disposable filter,” says Londre.
The mask can also be worn over N95 masks to extend their use. Quilt from the Heart is currently producing 75 to 100 masks per day.
While these masks are being made for people on the front lines of this epidemic, people at home can make their own without a filter. Simply cut out the Quilt from the Heart pattern printed with this story, follow the pattern instructions, and sew your own mask to wear. (See page 8.)
“You can cut up a shirt or sheets,” says Londre.
She recommends using cotton fabric.
One-for-One Masks by Late Sunday Afternoon
Matthew Schildkret founded Late Sunday Afternoon in Venice eight years ago. The Lincoln Boulevard boutique usually makes stylish scarves and ascots from salvaged deadstock fabric (material that would typically end up in a landfill) to keep with their “zero waste” mandate, but the store had to pivot in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We closed our doors on March 13 with no idea what to do,” says Schildkret. “We sat at home and waited for a path.”
The path appeared and led him and his business partner Thomas Brodahl to making face masks.
“I realized I had to reorganize and retrofit my production immediately. A couple days later, I started prototyping,” Schildkret says.
The outside layers of their masks are silk, while the straps are made of linen and are meant to be tied around the back of the head. For a filter, they’re using a double-layer of melt-blown, non-woven fabric often used in air filters.
“It makes a really comfortable, Late Sunday Afternoon-style mask. It’s a one-for-one program, meaning for every mask you purchase for $22, one will be donated to health care workers,” says Schildkret.
They hope to have completed approximately 2,000 masks by the end of the week. They are also making masks available to the homeless in Venice.
Protective Gear from a 3D Printer
When Playa Vista-based dentist Lawrence Fung discovered his fellow health care workers were in need of PPE, there was no way he was going to sit by idly.
“My business is essentially shut down until April 19,” says Fung. “I thought, okay, what am I going to do now?”
Given that his dental practice in Culver City has a 3D printer, an idea sparked: “I thought, why don’t I print a mask?” he says.
After crowdsourcing a design for a standard facemask then 3D printing it, he learned that the pre-made filters from 3M were completely sold out. He needed a new plan. When a large pediatric hospital reached out to him saying they were in need of face shields, he contacted several 3D printing companies in Orange County and the Inland Empire to help fabricate the face shields.
“The turnaround time is about 48 hours and can make about 500 a day,” says Fung, who’s had over 1,500 face shields manufactured.
The face shield is the first barrier between the virus and medical professional, with the mask as the second barrier. Since the standard practice is one shield for one patient, the need is in the tens of thousands.
“If everyone at home [with a 3D printer] could make 10 of these, we could make thousands of them,” he says.
Academics to the Rescue
Normally, the 3D printers that Santa Monica College professor Tram Dang uses for her engineering classes are making parts for robotic arms, or other creative inventions students have dreamt up. Now instead of lying dormant for the rest of the semester, they’re making open-sourced N95 masks and face shield headbands for medical professionals at Keck School of Medicine of USC and Kaiser Permanente Los Feliz.
“I hate having things sit around and not being used,” says Dang, whose brother is an ICU doctor.
So soon after classes moved online this March and a call went out from UCLA for PPE production help, Dang brought three 3D printers home, set them up in her garage, and wired up some extra security cameras so that she could “live stream” and monitor the printers’ progress on her home’s wireless network internally.
Since then, she’s been printing anywhere between 10 headbands and six face masks per day between two printers and has enlisted the help of a network of professors, including SMC Interaction Design professor Maxim Safioulline and art professor Christopher Badger.
“This whole thing is bigger than me,” says Dang, whose home will serve as a collection point for printed materials before being delivered to hospitals for assembly and sanitation. “It’s bigger than the individual organization, and I think to get through it, we all have to sort of work together, whether that means stay at home and do nothing or stay at home and 3D print.”
At the Badger household, 3D printing is a family affair as two 3D printers run “round the clock” in the family’s shed.
“My wife and two kids are helping to check the filaments,” says Badger, referring to the plastic material with which the masks are made. “We’re running prints 24 hours a day.
“The biggest thing about these masks is they’re reusable,” he continues, “There’s a small [HEPA] filter that’s embedded in the mask that can be thrown away, so the rest of the mask can be sanitized or reused.”
“I have about 30 of them right now,” he adds. “I’m going to keep those machines running until someone says stop, or I run out of materials.”
Delivering Masks Door-to-Door
When District 11 City Councilman Mike Bonin’s Field Deputy Nisa Kove learned that seniors living in Marina del Rey’s Marina Manor Senior Apartments didn’t have access to face masks, she wanted to help.
She discovered and reached out to a regional organization working with 25 sewists across Los Angeles called Project Mask LA, whose mission is to “mask LA” safely while leaving the N95 masks available for the pros.
In two days’ time, Kove had 200 face masks ready to be distributed.
“The masks we got were from a costumer, so most of the people that Project Mask LA are working with have master sewing skills,” says Kove.
Kove, along with Michelle Manos and Chelsea Stough of Project Mask LA, actually went door-to-door themselves to hand out the masks at Marina Manor recently.
“We were prepared with our gloves and masks and wipes. They were really grateful. People started coming out on their balcony,” says Kove. “A lot of these people aren’t even leaving their apartments, they’re getting Meals on Wheels deliveries and are afraid to go out, honestly.”
She also made sure the residents knew they needed to wash their masks daily, either in the washing machine or with hot water and detergent on the stovetop.
Kove, who lives in Venice, hopes some of the elderly can go out to catch a brief sea breeze now that they have masks.
Argonaut editor Christina Campodonico contributed to this report.