4 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Grassroots movement hopes to provide masks

8:07 am on 4 April 2020

A GP and a group of sewing enthusiasts in Methven are distributing hundreds of hand-made face masks to help try to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

GP Sophie Febery and her kids.

GP Sophie Febery and her kids. Photo: RNZ

GP Sophie Febery works at the Methven Medical Centre, where they have decided that all patients going through their door must be wearing a mask.

Dr Febery said that there have been cases of health care workers overseas who have become infected with the virus, due to asymptomatic patients in the GP waiting room.

"At our medical centre we started by putting masks on every patient that walked in and then I started thinking, what about everybody walking around the community who could be an asymptomatic patient passing that on?"

She thought masks would add an extra layer of protection on top of the recommendations already being given about physical distancing and handwashing.

Armed with some volunteer sewers, more than 200 hundred masks have been made and distributed around the Methven community in three days.

"They are still sewing like mad, I've sewn masks for my family and I've sewn extra to give away," she said.

To keep the masks clean, special instructions have been given.

"We are telling them as soon as they get [the masks] home, wash it in hot soapy water and then dry it in the oven at 70 degrees for 30 to 60 minutes.

Sophie's son works the sewing machine.

Sophie's son works the sewing machine. Photo: RNZ

"When you go out, wash your hands, put your mask on and then wash your hands again."

Once home, Dr Febery said people should wash their hands, take off their masks, wash their hands again and wash and dry the mask.

She also recommended people not touching their face while wearing their mask.

To spread their message further, a Facebook group has been set up.

PhD student at the University of Auckland, Regan Duff thought the movement could go national in a matter of days, with the right messaging.

He wanted New Zealand to adopt a similar strategy to the Czech Republic, using social media and celebrities to spread the word for members of the public to make their own masks.

He said the Ministry of Health in this country could advise best practice.

"Then they could give it over to social media influencers, celebrities and the like to spread the message across their networks and empowering people to take control of their own hygiene," he said.

As a result of the media campaign in the Czech Republic, millions of masks have been hand-made by the public.

The country remains one of the few to enforce mandatory mask-wearing in Europe.

There is still debate among experts about how effective masks are when used by the general public, especially those not of surgical grade.

"We can't guarantee that the masks will definitely protect against aerosol infection that is in the air, but what science shows is that it holds back the respiratory droplets that end up everywhere when we speak and go about our daily business," Duff said.

A petition has been set up to get the Chief Science Advisor and the Prime Minister to get behind the #masks4all campaign and encourage New Zealanders to begin homemade mask production in order to flatten the curve.

The Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has not ruled out some of the 40 million masks being imported by the ministry being diverted to the public.

Both Duff and Febery agreed that as long as there were enough masks for the health system, surgical masks for everyone would be ideal.

However, in the meantime, they argued the public could be making their own to try and reduce the spread.

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