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Mask shortage spurs Americans to action with their sewing machines

The Trump administration and health officials are now recommending that Americans should wear face masks while out in public to try to reduce the spread of coronavirus. But locals in Bethesda, Maryland, have already been putting their sewing machines to work. Jeffrey Brown reports on how these citizens of all ages are motivated to do something to help amid a crisis that can feel paralyzing.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Returning now to the question of wearing masks, how effective they are, and whether homemade masks can help stop the spread of the virus.

    We want to look at what is motivating the small army of citizens making masks in their own communities.

    Jeffrey Brown focuses on one Washington, D.C., suburb: Bethesda, Maryland, where locals have put sewing machines to work to make different types of masks for local medical professionals.

    It's part of our ongoing arts and culture series, Canvas.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Fiber artist Anya Caldwell is used to creating handmade products. She knits, crochets, weaves and sews.

    Now she's using any fabric she has, as well as donated linens, dish towels and pajamas, for a new purpose.

  • Anya Caldwell:

    A personal message to the people out there that are obviously stressed having to do this right now that we care for them, we love them. Neighbors donated the fabric that 37 years ago were the curtains in their baby's nursery. So they had sentimental value.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Caldwell has produced more than 200 fabric masks herself and is also working with families to make almost 200 more.

    They have received design advice from local health care workers. Some nurses and doctors around the country are welcoming the handmade masks, as hospital-supplied surgical masks are depleted.

    Jennifer Sun, a pediatrician by training, follows a do-it-yourself pattern recommended online that allows a filter to be inserted as an additional protective layer.

  • Jennifer Sun:

    There was a Facebook group that formed that has now over 5,000 members to send a message to people who are in charge that they need to get better protective equipment for our health care providers.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The need to contribute amid so much uncertainty is motivating people all over, a sail maker in Maine.

  • Woman:

    I'm with you. I hear you.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    A fashion designer in South Carolina, workers at a jeans company in Mississippi.

    Back in Bethesda, Rodolfo Castro, his wife, Lisa, and kids felt that same need.

  • Rodolfo Castro:

    We hope that these masks can lend a little more protection or extend the life of the N95 masks that nurses and doctors are wearing.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    High school junior Grace McGuire uses bright fabrics collected over the years on visits to her grandmother in Hawaii. She aims to make 100 masks, some for community members.

  • Grace McGuire:

    It's also therapeutic. And it's a good — it's a good, like, way to make me feel productive, because I'm helping people in my community have safer masks, so they're not buying these medical masks that the hospitals need.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Lawyers Gary and Janet McDavid, have built what they call an assembly line in their basement. Along with neighbors, they have completed hundreds of CDC-compliant homemade surgical masks.

  • Gary McDavid:

    When we're finished, we take them to the hospital, we call, and they send someone out to collect the masks.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Maria Monteverde-Jackson says the handiwork has multiple purposes.

  • Maria Monteverde-Jackson:

    Of course I believe in the power of small groups in times of crisis.

    I mean, the world needs big heroes right now. But we also need small heroes. And I suppose our greatest hope is that, in a small way, these masks help them to come home to their friends and family when this is all over, and to be able to give them a great big hug, because we could all use a great big hug right now.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We sure could.

    And we thank every single one of them and every one of you who are doing this for what you are doing.

    Thank you.

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