By Angelina Hicks
SAN DIEGO — When high school students Makenna and Carson Doan heard about the shortage of surgical masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they immediately thought of their father.
“Our dad is a physician, and it is terrifying to think of him going to see patients without the proper protection,” Makenna Doan said. “Hospitals and doctors’ offices are rationing safety supplies, and we have to do something to protect our dad and all the healthcare providers. When we heard that masks were running extremely low, we knew that we could do something about it.”
Makenna, a 16-year-old Cathedral Catholic High School junior, and Carson, a 14-year-old Canyon Crest Academy freshman, organized a project to create homemade masks to protect healthcare workers. They called it Mighty Mask, and have made more than 250 masks in the past month with the help of volunteers.
Masks of all types are going to be worn by many more people starting April 3. San Diego County health authorities are strongly encouraging all residents to cover their nose and mouth when leaving home for essential activities. Meanwhile, employees of essential businesses – such as markets, gas stations and restaurants – will be required to wear facial covering.
The siblings’ effort reflects a nationwide citizen response to the surge of COVID-19 cases that have overwhelmed healthcare facilities in New York, Washington state and other urban centers.
The masks are made from cotton dish towels, each costing approximately $2. They have a 97% filtration effectiveness against virus-sized particles and serve as one of the best materials for creating homemade masks, according to a 2013 study done by Cambridge University.
A mask takes approximately 10 minutes to make with an emphasis on cleanliness. It’s sanitized each time it comes into contact with a person.
Makenna explained how the masks are made.
First, a box of the dish towels, mostly donated, arrive at her doorstep, where it’s vigorously wiped down.
Then, each towel is washed, ironed, and placed onto a sanitized surface with gloves. The towels are cut in a 10-inch by 16-inch rectangle, folded in half, sewn along the edges, folded into thirds, and sewn down on both sides. After elastic is sewn on both sides, the mask is washed again and placed into a vacuum-sealed bag.
The masks are distributed, free of charge, to doctors’ offices and nursing homes. They also were given to the St. Thérèse of Carmel Catholic Church outreach program, which uses parish community members to run critical errands for the faithful who are homebound during the COVID-19 crisis.
Harrisson Trubitt, a youth minister, said the parish asked Makenna to make some masks for its newest ministry.
“We wanted to provide as much support and protection for our volunteers and those they serve as possible,” he said. “Makena allowed us to help those who help others.”
Volunteers can either help make masks, do the cutting, or donate materials, as suggested on the Mighty Mask website.
The siblings acknowledge that their homemade masks are not a substitute for surgical masks or N95 ones, yet they plan to continue to make them as long as the supply of the professional-grade ones remains inadequate.
While many students choose to sit on the couch during the California stay-at-home order, Makenna and Carson see their project as a service, particularly as the Lenten season approaches Easter Sunday.
“We were inspired by the uncertainty that our world is facing, and we wanted to find a way to help,” Makenna said. “We typically are a three-sport family, so when our schools went to distance learning and sports were canceled, all of a sudden we had a great amount of time on our hands. This was just a great opportunity to use that time and help our community.
“We hope to show people how they can help during this time and bring light to others… We all see the value in keeping our healthcare workers and community healthy. This is just our little contribution.”
Angelina Hicks, is Managing Editor of El Cid, the student newspaper of Cathedral Catholic High School, which has a partnership with The Southern Cross.