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San Diego sewing groups offer maskmaking tutorials as mask mandates go into effect

The county's face-covering requirements are in effect indefinitely.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Starting Friday, San Diego County residents are required to wear masks in public, and volunteer organizations that have been fashioning and donating masks to medical facilities in need of personal protective equipment are also providing residents with the means to create their own.

Sewing enthusiasts who took their interests online to share designs or tips with others have found a new outlet for their craft in the pandemic era: producing donations of masks for health care professionals and other essential workers amid a massive shortage in personal protective equipment, and providing tutorials for people quarantined at home to make their own masks.

Michelle Harvey, who heads the San Diego Face Mask Sewing Group on Facebook, said she's fairly new to sewing, but started making masks when her friend, an ICU nurse at Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, said the hospital would begin taking donations. Harvey reached out to others, yielding an influx of people willing to help the donation cause.

From there, the group took off, now numbering more than 1,500 members, with Harvey coordinating donations of thousands of masks to hospitals across and even outside of the county, first responders, military members and charity organizations.

"I have made many new friends and have had the ability to witness a large group of individuals unite together to help others," Harvey said. "The kindness, selflessness, and perseverance displayed by this group keeps me inspired to keep working on this seven days a week. I have heard from several members that in a world where things seem so out of control, this was one thing we could control."

Harvey's group is far from the only one.

The San Diego Crochet, Knitting and Crafting Circle, once a Facebook page that founder Tawny Mangiaracina kept private prior to COVID-19, is now a public endeavor with nearly 600 members, which has donated masks, surgical caps and other gear to Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, the city of Chula Vista's Parks and Recreation Department, retail workers interacting regularly with the public, and a host of other organizations in need, an ever-expanding list as the pandemic rages on.

The group had previously been involved in other charitable endeavors, such as sewing and shipping mittens overseas during the Australia wildfires for animals who'd suffered burns.

"I'm extremely proud to see several of our members sharing innovative ways that our group can use our love for crafts to step up and help our community during this pandemic," said Mangiaracina. "These hand-sewn masks are now one of the only lines of defense for many of the doctors, nurses and first responders who are facing this crisis head on. Our group will continue to do all we can to help protect these fearless individuals and the vulnerable members of our community."

While mask supplies have largely been allocated for essential workers who interact with the general public, all county residents will now need to have their own masks for any outings bringing them within six feet of people they don't live with.

The county's face-covering requirements are in effect indefinitely.

"People must have a face covering readily accessible to put on in populated areas to avoid droplet spread in a six-feet radius when participating in any type of active recreation," County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten said.

Harvey said she expects her group to get a lot more requests for masks now that it's mandated for county residents, but the task of providing donations to any and all residents "would be an impossible order," she said.

Instead, tutorials featured on pages like hers may give residents the ability to obtain masks without leaving home, with both the methods and materials available through these online communities.

Harvey's latest post on her group's page brought attention to the new mask requirements in effect, and urged new members to reach out to others for tips on sewing their own masks, or receiving donations of mask materials.

Another group, Make-A-Mask San Diego, which has more than 800 members, features pdf files of mask-making tutorials and downloadable patterns. In preparation for "the massive demand that will be coming up" starting Friday, the group created a resource page at http://tiny.cc/sandiegomasks, where people can purchase masks from local small businesses and professional seamstresses.

Mangiaracina said her group's new members are welcome to reach out to others within the burgeoning community for any advice on creating masks for donation purposes or personal use.

"If you have the materials and the skills, we're more than happy to guide you," she said. 

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