CSS East Making Face Mask Project Frequently Asked Question: “How do you make the masks?”

Theo tin CSS East

CSS East Making Face Mask Project
Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)
(Updated April 1, 2020)

How do you make the masks?

Our mask is not the N95 mask. Ours falls into the category of surgical mask or “procedural mask”, designed help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter from spreading.

If you search on YouTube, there are half a dozen video instructions on how to make masks that are put up by private individuals or hospitals themselves. A few representative samples are:

• Instructional video for sewing the Olson mask, by UnityPoint Health – Cedar Rapids, Iowa

• How to make a healthcare mask with special filter pocket, by North Memorial Health Hospital which teaches you how to make a cloth healthcare mask with a special filter pocket to help protect healthcare workers and patients.

There are dozens more video instructions on YouTube.

However, CSS East design is slightly different. Dr. Quốc Dũng Trần MD and chair of the Anesthesiology department at Georgetown Medstar Hospital in DC is our project adviser.

We have tested several prototypes and our masks are designed according to Dr. Trần’s specification. They are breathable, washable, hygienic, medical-type face mask. They have inserted aluminum foil nose bridge to help the wearer be more comfortable. We test the design by washing it several times to make sure they can be re-used. Hand wash is recommended. No microwave.

Our design comes in 2 sizes (L/M), and we plan to provide at least 2 – hopefully 4 or 5 – per health worker.

What other written instructions can I follow?

There are a lot of designs and instructions on YouTube, Facebook and other Internet forum. We have not tried them out, but we can list a few here for information purpose:

• How to Sew a Face Mask. A tutorial on how to make your own fabric face mask from common household materials. (New York Times)

• It’s Time to Make Your Own Face Mask. Here’s how to do it. (New York Times)

There is also a support group on Facebook called “Relief Crafters of America” with a sub-group where like-minded people get together to make masks, and share tips and experiences.

What is the mask made out of?

Currently, we use either high quality high thread-count, 100% cotton or micro-fiber, or surplus materials donated by hospitals that are used to wrap sterilized surgical instruments. As we gain experience, we may experiment with different types of materials. The elastic band is ¼” to make wearing it more comfortable and adjustable.

The following chart shows the possible protective effects of different types of materials, as compared to the common surgical mask.

Who are the masks for?

CSS East has been making them for health care workers (people serving food to patients, cleaning patient’s room, volunteers, receptionists, etc.). Dr. Tran said even doctors are told they have to re-use their masks and make it last up to a week, whereas they used to use it once per patient visit. Now they use the same mask all day long (this is well documented in lots of news articles). 

If that’s what doctors get, what do you think how many masks the rest of the health care workers get? (That’s why we make sure the mask is re-usable after washes, and we try to give each person 2-5 masks so they can change). Once they come down sick, who’s going to take care of the sick, regardless of how many masks, ventilators, ICUs, etc.?

If I want to make masks and donate in my local community, where do I start?

There are a dozen web sites stood up by hospital and non-profit to link the mask donors and the recipients.

This MaskForHeroes organization matches the donors to the recipients (they have instruction on how to make masks on their web site). There is a long list of hospitals who want the masks on the web site.

The U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health has also compiled a list of hospitals by state that are accepting homemade masks, including instructions for dropping them off.


Are the masks really needed?

While face masks are less than 100% effective against virus transmission (to be effective, it has to be a special type of masks and specially fitted to the wearer). It does help protect against aerosolized transmission.

Even hospitals are in short of supplies, so many are recommending re-usable face masks for their workers. (They will take it home and wash it). 

News report on hospital making their own masks.

Does the CDC recommend wearing face masks?

Regarding wearing masks, it has long been the recommendation of the CDC that people with no symptom and no known risk of exposure not wear mask. Masks are not 100% effective against virus transmission (to be effective, it has to be a special type of masks and specially fitted to the wearer), can convey a false sense of security, and the CDC is concerned (rightly so) about the pubic rushing out to buy masks and not leaving enough for health care workers. Plus, workers wearing masks may cause patient’s nervousness in the hospital *What do they know and not telling me?).

As the pandemic rage on, experts have also questioned the previous CDC guideline. And there are reports the CDC is re-considering its own recommendation.

The following are some of the fair and well-written article on the topic:

CDC considering recommending general public wear face coverings in public. (Washington Post)

C.D.C. Weighs Advising Everyone to Wear a Mask (New York Times)

More Americans Should Probably Wear Masks for Protection (New York Times)

Americans are sewing homemade masks to fight coronavirus (Vox news). DIYers on Facebook have stepped up to create cloth masks and mask covers for health care workers. It’s a rare bit of good news.

Top Chinese officials warn not wearing masks is a serious mistake (Yahoo News)

Wear a Mask. No, Don’t Wear a Mask. Wait: Yes, Wear a Mask (Medium). This article presents both sides of the argument in a fair way.

Masks may not protect you 100% from other, but does have a significant impact on protecting others from you, if you happen to be infected. If you are in an elevator with a person who sneeze a lot, would you rather that he/she wear a mask?

The worry about masks running out for health care worker is moot, since right now, it’s running out anyway! Plus, we are not talking about N95 masks. We are talking about home made masks, at best equivalent to Level 2 or Level 3 ASTM standard.

Who are we making these masks for?  (Who will be using these masks)?

After Dr. Tran’s hospital, very soon, our organization want to branch out and support health care and service providers at local hospices, senior centers, etc. These workers served a very vulnerable population. At least hospitals have more money and get more attention. These workers are on their own and desperate.

How would we be distributing or sending these masks?

In CSS East case, we work through Dr. Tran and our local contacts at health service provider institutions. Hospital and hospices cannot accept our donation because of liability. But Dr. Tran knows the workers and they know him, so they are very happy to get our masks. So, it’s not easy. We have to navigate. We cannot give directly to the institution. We have to have contact inside who can help us. If we don’t, even the workers who need it may not trust us.

We also partner with the “Hope For Tomorrow” organization, who will connect us with needy institution.

Where do you distribute these masks?

Start with Georgetown Medstar, branch out to other hospitals in DC, Virginia and Maryland in the Washington metropolitan area. Also reaching out to hospices, nursing homes, etc.

We benefited from a partnership and coordination with “Hope for Tomorrow” who will be advising and assisting us on locating

What about liability?

We include a Liability Waiver in our package. We explicitly state that we make no claim as to the effectiveness of the mask as health protection equipment, or for any purpose. The mask is a free gift, not for sale. Acceptance of the gift means the recipient release us from liability.

I know how to sew, can I help?

Right now (April 1, 2020) our production is limited by the availability of elastic bands. We have enough seamstress. Please email at chinhtin.bui@gmail.com and let us know you can help, and we will contact you when the next batch of supplies arrived, expected in a week to 10 days.

We are swamped with daily work, so please do NOT contact us via phone.

Can you help us make these ourselves for our own group?

Certainly, we’ll be happy to share our design and know how. We have instructions, samples, etc. Please contact us at chinhtin.bui@gmail.com.

Can I buy the mask that you make?

Unfortunately, no. CSS East is a non-profit organization. We cannot sell things without collecting sale taxes and filing for complicated tax returns, which we are not equipped to do. We also do not have the ability to ship or track shipment.

Our highest priority right now is to address the need of the front-line health care workers. However, we do understand the need of the community, especially among the elderly population. So, we are exploring for ways to help. Please stay tuned.

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