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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: Hannah Ferguson and Brian Morris with face masks they made at Zak Labs in Renton. 
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Hannah Ferguson and Brian Morris with face masks they made at Zak Labs in Renton.
Credit: Courtesy of Zak Labs

Sew say we all! How cosplayers are answering calls for face masks and more

Last week, Washington cosplayers answered a call to make face masks for hospitals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the weekend, that call was answered, in bulk, by a local furniture factory. But that didn't stop these crafters. They've only expanded their goals.

Like the Avengers facing Thanos, cosplayers from across the United States are assembling -- face masks and other supplies needed by medical professionals.

"I’m in conversation with people from Illinois, California, Tennessee, New York, Texas -- so it’s all over the United Sates," said Brian Morris with Zak Labs, a custom cosplay and prop-making shop in Renton. “It’s crazy how quick and fast the cosplay community has jumped on this."

“Most cosplayers don’t have any con or events to go to — they’ve all been canceled for the next few months," he adds. "So we have empty shops, we have empty sewing machines, we’re not making anything right now. You have an army of creatives out there who are ready and willing to jump on this.”

'Cosplayers Unite!' Medical officials in Washington state solicit homemade face masks

Like others in the Northwest, he's aware that that local medical facilities are running low on personal protection equipment relied upon to treat patients -- face masks, gloves, etc. Washington requested supplies from the national stockpile, but only received about a quarter of what was asked for. It has left many scrambling for supplies and asking for donations. One Bellevue hospital reportedly is making face masks out of the privacy curtains in patients' rooms.

Morris is not the only crafter in Washington putting sewing machines to use to help fill the gap. Congressmember Derek Kilmer from Washington even noted that his wife Jen is sewing masks in their home.

Another local cosplayer is Renee Spencer, aka Pixiebomber. She's joined an online discussion with area nurses seeking face mask donations. With spare cotton fabric, she can make a handful each night.

“I’ve done a little research and I’m making sure I’m following CDC guidelines which say that home-made mask can be used in these situations when no proper medical protective equipment is available," she said. "And I’ve also joined a Facebook group that was recommended to me by a nurse at Providence called ‘Maskapolooza.’"

The online group includes nurses and people who can sew. It's one of a few such groups she's aware of.

"The nurses have been making personal recommendations — specifically to use string; to not cause tension on the ears," she said.

Spencer has handed out a few of her masks to one health care office that is not on the front lines of the pandemic. Otherwise, she is continuing to sew, waiting for direction for when her masks may be needed.

"Recently, someone reached out — a friend of a former co-worker — asking about masks for a hospital in Port Orchard,” she said. “If they’re reaching out to me, in this area, that means there’s a great need over there ... It’s really all through relationships. Everybody who knows somebody is getting a hold of somebody to get something.”

It's important to note: Whether or not medical facilities will accept home-made donations depends on the organization. It is best to check with the facility first to see what they will take.

Here's how Washington state health care workers are collecting medical equipment donations

The Washington State Department of Enterprise Services is asking for bulk donations of personal protection equipment from face masks to gowns. A full list of needed items and a form to donate can be found here.

UW Medicine is also reaching out, asking for unopened items in their original packaging, including face masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, and more.

Morris says that after finding out what his local hospital need, he spent Monday using a laser cutter to make patterns for face masks. He has a couple sewing stations that will go until they run out of materials. Zak Labs has even live streamed a sewing session on Twitch -- all four hours and 40 minutes of it.

“Right now, Valley Medical here in Renton, like Providence and other hospitals, are taking donations of both masks and face shields," he said. "And there’s also a need for gowns and other stuff. But the two items we can easily craft are the medical cloth face masks and the (face) shields."

“We can construct those really easy, both with 3D printing and molding and casting," Morris said. "Those are set skills we use for all of our cosplays. We just turn the dial and now we’re making medical supplies."

Morris says that the masks he is making aren’t as strong as an N95 mask, which will block about 95% of particulates. His masks are made out of 100% cotton, with a non-woven material on the inside. He estimates they will block about 60-70% of particulates.

“So these masks are used in two situations,” he said. “One, so that you don’t just run through all your N95s, because those are the ones that are hard to get. First you put on the N95, then you put on top of that one of these masks we are making, so the N95 lasts longer."

He adds that the masks can be used by veterinarians or homeless shelters so that medical masks can be freed up for the front lines.

He says a single person could take 10-15 minutes to make just one. Locally, he's aware of about a dozen cosplayers, and half a dozen others across the United States who are putting their talents toward the mask-making effort. One East Coast cosplayer in communication with Morris has enough material to make 1,500 masks.

Getting materials has been the biggest challenge for the crafters. Elastic isn’t too easy to come by these days. Morris urges any shops with raw materials to donate to someone who can turn it into something that medical professionals can use.

“I think together, we can solve this problem,” Morris said. “We can make what we need here, locally. We don’t have to worry about world supplies. We have the talent, the skills, the abilities to handle this crisis.”