Community members step up to craft masks at home for at-risk 

Health Canada notes homemade masks are not medical devices

click to enlarge PHOTO SUBMITTED - Michaela Kubátová—an interior designer by trade who recently lost her housekeeping job in Whistler because of the virus—is opting to make her own masks. She's offering the masks by donation, and plans to donate half of the proceeds to the Whistler Community Services Society.
  • Photo submitted
  • Michaela Kubátová—an interior designer by trade who recently lost her housekeeping job in Whistler because of the virus—is opting to make her own masks. She's offering the masks by donation, and plans to donate half of the proceeds to the Whistler Community Services Society.

Like so many others these days, Frances Dickinson has adopted a one-day-at-a-time mentality in handling the stress of COVID-19.

"No plans are being made. I feel like some days are great, some days are terribly dismal," Dickinson said with a chuckle, from her home in Pemberton.

Thankfully, as the organizer of Pemberton's Boomerang Bags program, Dickinson has a built-in skill to help occupy some of her time at home—sewing dozens of handmade masks to offer free to the town's frontline workers.

"...Then I just started thinking about all the people working out there in the coffee shops and the grocery stores," she said. "I went in there and it's all these young people working, and they had gloves on, and I just thought, 'Well. maybe I could just make a few masks and put it out there, and see if people want them.'"

Dickinson noted her homemade masks are covers, meant to prolong the life of surgical masks but not replace them.

The response has been positive so far, she said, with several Pemberton businesses reaching out.

The effectiveness of wearing masks in public has been a hot topic since the outbreak began. In an email, a spokesperson for Vancouver Coastal Health said it has not advocated for the public to wear masks, adding that the best protection is to follow proper hygiene etiquette such as hand-washing, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing and staying home when sick.

In Michaela Kubátová's home country of the Czech Republic, the government made the use of masks mandatory for all—an action now being credited by some for flattening the country's COVID-19 infection curve.

Seeing the results back home, Kubátová—an interior designer by trade who recently lost her housekeeping job in Whistler because of the virus—opted to make her own masks, too.

"[There's] a lot of information everywhere—some people say that facemasks doesn't work, some people say that it works very well—I can see that, just in my homeland, it works, so I am doing the same thing," Kubátová said.

She's offering the masks by donation, and plans to donate half of the proceeds to the Whistler Community Services Society.

"We are super busy and we are trying to do our best and make as many as possible of them," she said.

Along with offering the masks free for frontline workers, Dickinson is selling the masks for $10. She's also encouraging anyone who wants to help sew masks to get in touch. Reach her by email at fran.c.dickinson@gmail.com.

"We can't work, we can't go about our day, and so to just be able to help out in any way, it's a great positive distraction," she said.

Whistler resident John Ford is making a different kind of mask. He is using a 3D printer purchased a few months ago to make full-face shields.

"There's lots of designs online," Ford explained. He found a fairly simple one for a full-face shield from Swedish-based 3DVerkstan, downloaded the design, and "remixed" it, to strengthen a few parts of the visor. 

(The design he chose had already been tested and approved for medical use, he added, but Whistler Health Care Centre director Dr. Bruce Mohr clarified, "They have to be linked to someone in the health authority that manages materials to be sure that they meet the standards for use by healthcare workers in public facilities. As far as I know that hasn't been done.") 

While the 3D printer crafts the halo-style frames, the shields themselves are just repurposed overhead transparencies—think the acetate sheets your high-school teachers used to write on overhead projectors with.

The design's template is set up to allow for the use of a standard three-hole punch, Ford explained. Once holes are punched into the plastic sheets, the makeshift masks are easily clipped onto the plastic visors' pegs. 

"I just saw the need and thought I'd see what I could do," he said, adding that Whistler Hardware stepped up and provided 35 sheets. 

Fellow Whistlerite Kash Lingat has been consistently running her printers and working off the same 3DVerkstan design as Ford chose, but "just started ramping up production as the demand is starting to spike," she explained in a Facebook message on March 31.

"I made about 20 yesterday and plan on making at least 20 a day," she wrote, adding that she's expecting two more 3D printers to arrive next week. "Maybe then I'll be able to make around 200-300 a week!? Sounds insane, but I think I'll be able to do it."

Lingat is a member of an organization called "BC Covid-19 3D Printing Group," which, as she explained, is coordinating requests from B.C. hospitals and health care workers, collecting the printed materials from its members, and then distributing them appropriately throughout the province.

"There's about 200 of us in the group doing all kinds of things. Some are specialized in 3D printing, some in laser cutting (to make the shield part) and so on," she explained.

-with a file from Brandon Barrett

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