The Mexican women making masks for healthcare workers

These Mexican women are also making suits and face shields to protect doctors and nurses

COVID-19: The Mexican women making masks for healthcare workers in Chiapas
English 22/04/2020 18:14 Mexico City Guadalupe Jimarez Actualizada 11:25
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Gina Valdivia and Charo De los Santos, who are from Chiapas, have been friends for 30 years. In 2009, they went through the AH1N1 flu epidemic and they witness every day the brutality of migration. Today, they are making masks, suits, and face shields for healthcare workers at the frontline of the war against COVID-19.

In Mexico, resilience is a quality learned due to earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and epidemics. Hence, when the coronavirus pandemic deepened in Mexico, Gina did not hesitate to take action; when she saw videos of the situation in Guayaquil, Ecuador, she thought she could use her talent, sewing, to help.
 

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“I decided to take action because we cannot take any risk. Our city is small and we have a lot of migration. Hence, there are always many people wandering in the streets and one of the most important things we need to do is to protect our doctors and healthcare workers who are in direct contact with the virus for they are who will fight for us,” says Gina, who founded the project.

Gine left her sewing workshop, where she has worked for 20 years and where she has designed wedding dresses and other kinds of clothes, to help. “We decided to begin one Wednesday. We made a group with our friends and family to invite them to donate materials, because the main store that sells fabric is closed, or money to buy more in online stores,” says Charo.

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Useful and effective
This team has delivered masks to the Tapachula General Hospital, Ciudad Salud, the Cacahoatan Health Center, and the Huiztla IMSS. From 20 meters of ecological fabric, they make 200 masks. Charo says that “more pieces could have been made; however, in order for them to be useful and efficient, we made them with three layers.”

The Biological Security Committee from the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases (INER) adds that cloth masks or “respirators” are able to prevent the inhalation of infectious agents. The N95 masks are the minimum required to prevent infections.

This only protects from particles but not from gases or vapors. “The N95 term means that the respirators can filter at least 95% of the particles. The N means that it is not oil-resistant.”

In addition, the efficiency of these masks depends on them completely covering facial hair near the nose and mouth. Likewise, once they are used, it is recommended not to touch their outer part and to only manipulate the sides to avoid contact with any contagious agent.

The lifespan of the masks depends on the weather; if the user sweats too much, the efficiency is reduced. However, in non-warm areas, like hospitals, they can be used for up to three days. For this, it is necessary to put them in the sun. With the donations, they have bought approximately 190 meters of ecologic cloth with which they plan to make from 2,000 to 4,000 masks.

The suits are made with another kind of fabric and they have elastic bands in the sleeves and feet. They calculate that they can last for a month as long as they are washed with warm water to disinfect them.

Meanwhile, they make the face shields with acetate they buy from electronic stores because they had to look for alternatives now that many stores are closed. “The production line is slow for we need more hands; however, we hope we can do it faster.”

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Mexican solidarity
The moment they published their project on social media and an invitation for others to join it, they began receiving calls and support from other people, such as Rosa, who works in the workshop, who volunteered. For their part, the psychologist Tere Álvarez and her husband sanitized the workshop to ensure it is safe for operation.

Both Mexican women were wary of their project being announced in media outlets for they feared it would cause mistrust regarding donations, nevertheless, they assert “it is necessary; we need to be united and move people to take action to support the cause.” Although both of them belong to the high-risk population (Charo has asthma and Gina hypertension) they are not planning to halt their contribution.

Gina and Charo say they will go on as long as their hands let them. They hope to soon be able to produce more masks to protect healthcare workers.

“There is still a lot left to do, but we want to show that you can help with little and make big things.” Now, several hospitals have contacted them since “they recognize the quality of what we do,” because they are made with resistant materials.

With over 1,000 masks and 200 suits donated to healthcare workers, Gina and Charo want to protect those who are taking care of Mexicans during the pandemic.

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