There’s no point covering up what this story’s about.
If you have the skills to sew protective masks and want to put those talents to use against COVID-19, go to syracusemaskproject.org.
If your business, agency or medical facility needs quality homemade masks, also go to syracusemaskproject.org.
The website is the brainchild of Nancy Gaus of Baldwinsville, an engineer-turned-seamstress who is turning lockdown into a labor of love.
Her site was built to function as a regional PPE switchboard by connecting volunteer mask-makers with organizations that need them. At syracusemaskproject.org you’ll find everything from hospital-approved patterns to a list of area sewing groups to the names and locations of institutions and companies that need masks. You’ll also find easy — but specific — instructions on how to request masks.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent order that everyone wear a mask in public is upping the need for volunteers to sew fabric alternatives. The nationwide shortage of surgical and N95 masks, which are reserved for high-risk medical scenarios, has led the Centers for Disease Control and hospitals to relax standards as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
A properly designed fabric mask may not be ideal, but it’s a reasonably effective barrier by itself and as an outer mask to increase the lifespan of scarce N95s.
Gaus launched her site about three weeks ago after Upstate Medical University released a pattern it would accept. Gaus left nothing to chance.
“I called to clarify a few details,” she said.
A former hardware engineer, Gaus left her job at General Electric in 1992 to pursue a second career as an at-home seamstress. When the pandemic hit the U.S., a friend sent her a link to a story about a sewing room at a hospital in Georgia where experienced sewers were making masks. Inspired by the idea, she concluded that in Central New York it would be more efficient to create an online clearinghouse to get masks to where they’re needed.
She’s asked often how many masks have been created due to syracusemaskproject.org. She has no way of knowing because that’s not how the site works. Gaus doesn’t operate as a “middleman” by collecting masks from others and racing around the region distributing them. Instead, the site provides a centralized place for sewers and recipients to make their own arrangements.
“I have no idea what the traffic is like. I just put out the road.”
But there’s anecdotal evidence that awareness of the site is spreading through word-of-mouth and with help from the Syracuse tech community. Careers in Code and Code for Syracuse, both affiliated with Hack Upstate and the Tech Garden, helped with getting the site up and spreading the word on social media. The Girl Scouts of NYPenn Pathways gave it an early plug, and the Syracuse Weavers Guild promotes the site to its members. Recently, a New Jersey senior community asked for masks, and Gaus just shipped an order to Lake Placid.
Two types of masks are recommended on syracusemaskproject.org. A simple two-layer rectangular mask is easy to make in quantity for less confident sewers. A three-layer shaped mask with a nose piece creates a tighter fit. That one is for health care professionals and demands a greater level of skill to craft.
The site includes links showing how to make a mask for yourself or family members for everyday use.
Gaus promises improvements are coming soon to the text-heavy site. Webpage design is not one of her areas of expertise, so that part was slow going, and the work has taken time away from sewing. Even so, she’s produced dozens of masks and 20 scrub caps, delivering them in a stealthy manner she encourages others to emulate.
“I’m like a fairy godmother. It’s kind of fun,” she said. “They have no idea who I am or where I’m coming from. All they know is there are masks in their drop-off box.”
There’s a multiplier effect to these efforts. Jennifer Tran, a co-leader at Code for Syracuse, learned about Gaus’ site, and it helped focus her desire to contribute. She developed a statewide Google map site that builds on Gaus’ idea. At CNYCOVID19Masks, you’ll find a map of New York with red dots showing about two-dozen medical facilities. Click a red dot and you’ll see what that facility needs and any further instructions.
“All these first responders are risking their lives for us,” Tran said. “This is something simple we can to do help.”
Jeff Kramer is a columnist for The Stand. He has written newspaper columns for many, many years in Syracuse and elsewhere. To contact him with story ideas, call (315) 420-2619 or email firstname.lastname@example.org