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Not long after Santa Barbara health officials somberly announced the first death in the county from COVID-19 on Wednesday, the State of California sent out guidance advising the public that they might want to start donning cloth face coverings. The notice was chockful of caveats, given the shortage of facemasks for medical use.
“The use of cloth face coverings could reduce the transmission of COVID-19 by individuals who do not have symptoms and may reinforce physical distancing,” the state advisory announced, adding that they were no substitute for staying six feet apart from each other and washing hands frequently.
Nor is the state saying to use N95 masks or surgical masks, both of which are imperative for health-care workers caring for patients with COVID-19. Doctors, nurses, hospital staff, and first responders will all necessarily encounter infected patients, some multiple times a day. On March 23, Cottage Health CEO Ron Werft said his hospitals had gone from their typical use of 25 masks a day to 500 as cases and visits increased, and as supplies went undelivered. Cottage, and subsequently the county, sent an appeal to residents to donate their stores.
Homemade masks using cloth, even T-shirts, are being turned out all over the country in the new iteration of sewing circles. Dozens of videos and tutorials come up in any search online. And people are responding, said Jason Stallings, who runs Pop’s Shoe Repair on West Canon Perdido Street. “Our Camarillo location offers sewing machine repair, tune-ups, and so on,” he said. “We’ve had dozens of customers lately pouring in to get their machines fixed because they’re responding to the request of local hospitals to make medical masks from home. It’s absolutely amazing.”
Pop’s offers pickup and delivery in the Camarillo area, said Walt Stallings, whose repair shop also resoles cowboy boots. “About a week ago, a lady was struggling to get her sewing machine out of her car,” Stallings said. “I ran to help her, and I got to thinking that a lot of older ladies had this same problem with a heavy machine sitting at home. The sewing clubs all want to help the nurses.” He offers 50 percent off sewing machine repairs, but Santa Barbarans will want to bring theirs to the shop at 127 West Canon Perdido.
As new information is published daily in medical journals on the disease unfolding around the world, one study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus could remain airborne for up to three hours in the lab. Cloth masks are additional protection against the community spread ongoing on the county.
“Studies from other countries that were affected by COVID-19 before us are showing there may be some benefit to use face coverings,” said Jackie Ruiz, spokesperson for County Public Health. “But we want to ensure folks are not using masks meant for health-care professionals. We must protect these precious resources for our health-care providers.”
At the Santa Barbara Independent, our staff is working around the clock to cover every aspect of this crisis — sorting truth from rumor. Our reporters and editors are asking the tough questions of our public health officials and spreading the word about how we can all help one another. The community needs us — now more than ever — and we need you in order to keep doing the important work we do. Support the Independent by making a direct contribution or with a subscription to Indy+.