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Mask-Making Efforts by SVA Community Members
April 24, 2020 by Emma Drew
Makers for MDs

Masks made by Makers for MDs.

Members of the SVA community are using their many talents and skills to address a crucial component of the COVID-19 crisis: the shortages of personal protection equipment (PPE) for frontline health-care workers, as well as the need for everyday-use face covering. As of April 2, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene now recommends that all New Yorkers wear a face covering when outside of their home to help stop the spread of COVID-19.


Thanks to the efforts of a handful of parents, students, and even one incoming freshman, SVA has received 15,000 surgical masks so far for students, staff, and faculty, including 200 N95 masks that will be donated to health-care workers, reports Bill Martino, director of SVA Student Affairs. While factory-made masks are primarily sold out and unavailable in much of the U.S., many concerned parents and students have been able to ship large quantities of masks from China directly to SVA.

On the DIY front, fabric artist and BFA Visual and Critical Studies faculty member Amy Wilson (BFA 1995 Fine Arts) has focused her efforts on making sure the underserved in her community have access to CDC-compliant hand-sewn masks. She has been sewing masks since early March and making them available on her website twice a week. At least half are offered at the reduced price of 25 cents; the rest are available at full price ($20 + $4 shipping). Folks who buy their masks at the full price are essentially subsidizing the free masks, she explains: "We're doing this on trust; you say you need a mask and can't afford it, and I will believe you." She is also donating masks to her local fire department and home health aides. Her website includes instructions for making your own masks and often links to or retweets other makers and vendors. 

Working at home with StitchroomSVA Visible Futures Lab (VFL) Manager Elizabeth Meiklejohn is making fabric face masks intended for hospital workers. Additionally, VFL Director Chester Dols and the VFL staff, part of the MFA Products of Design program, are currently collaborating on several projects with smaller, self-organized groups that have access to doctors in need of PPE and who will accept them directly. "Each hospital and clinic is accepting different PPE," Dols says, and not all accept DIY PPE, which have yet to be approved by the CDC or FDA. "We're talking to these administrators, these doctors, getting their perspective and feedback on what works and what they're willing to accept—rather than waiting for a large organization to coordinate for us."


Dols is coordinating efforts with an NYU group called Makers for MDs, a nonprofit collective making 3D-printed face shields for physicians and sharing the open-source design that allows others to replicate their process for fabrication and sterilization. They worked directly with health-care workers to hone the design and have since distributed over 150 face shields to doctors and nurses at the Jacobi Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

Stitchroom masks

Face masks made by Stitchroom.

Dols is also working with two different initiatives focused on turning snorkeling and scuba gear into ventilator masks via plastic connector valves. He has 3D-printed and delivered around 50 parts to ISINNOVA, an independent research institute in Italy, where the masks are currently being used in clinics, and to a private practice in Florida, where they are still being tested. Finally, the VFL is assisting a research group from the University of Pennsylvania's medical school, prototyping a new handheld device for U.V. light sterilization of one-time use PPE.


"Most of these DIY things are test-at-your-own-risk," Dols acknowledges. "But you try this thing that has not been approved, or you watch and do nothing and still have the same results. People are just trying to do as much as they can right now rather than sitting still, and until facilities in the U.S. are keeping up with demand, it's the only solution that we have."


For those who would like to get involved with sewing or other fabrication projects, the VFL website has an ongoing spreadsheet of vetted sources; if you have access to a 3D printer or another fabrication supplies, you can contact the VFL directly, vflinfo@sva.edu. Makers for MDs also accept donations to help pay for materials and production costs.


*None of the aforementioned projects are being done in any official capacity on behalf of SVA. They are the work of concerned community members trying to assist during the COVID-19 pandemic.