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OU student contributes to COVID-19 relief by sewing masks at home for non-clinical health workers in Norman

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coronavirus face masks espinosa

Industrial and systems engineering senior Rosalinda Espinosa smiles while sewing face masks.

When Rosalinda Espinosa read Norman Mayor Breea Clark’s Facebook post about local physicians in need of protective equipment, she had an idea. 

Espinosa, an industrial and systems engineering senior at OU, researched sewing patterns for face masks, asked her mom to teach her to sew and started on a project she predicts will last the rest of the semester. Within two days, she said she made 50 masks. 

“The sewing pattern was really easy,” Espinosa said. “I think anyone could learn how to do it really quickly. My mom taught me in 10 to 20 minutes.”

Espinosa said her first few attempts were “a bit of a mess,” but she improved her technique one mask at a time. She said she’s now pledged to make 100 masks a week until finals week.

In the thick of social distancing, Espinosa said she was “bored out of (her) mind” from staying home all day, which is what led her to seek out projects to give back to the community.

“I've done everything from teaching my dogs new tricks to learning new cooking recipes to reading new books, audiobooks, (and) even those museum and zoo tours that they have online,” Espinosa said. “So I saw this opportunity to learn a new skill, and I was ready to help the community. I was like, ‘You know what? I’ve got time and it sounds like a good idea.' It’s a great coping mechanism.”

Espinosa reached out to her Kappa Delta Chi sorority sisters from all over the country, who donated $175 and shared her project on social media. Each mask costs around $2 to make, and Espinosa said she plans to use the money for more fabric and thread.

Espinosa said while she understands the value of her project, she suggests those without the means to donate can also help the community by simply staying home.

“Even just going out of your way to isolate yourself … those efforts are helping the community,” Espinosa said. “It’s not just (about) donating money or making masks. Following what the CDC and WHO have suggested is super important because, as a community, we can help each other during these times by making sure the virus doesn’t spread.”

Erin Barnhart, executive director of the philanthropic organization Norman Regional Health Foundation, said while cloth masks are not for clinical use with isolation patients, they serve as a constant reminder for non-clinical health workers not to touch their faces. 

“(Cloth masks) are strictly for us not to touch our faces,” Barnhart said. “They’re not a protective barrier because they’re not tight to your face and you have exposure coming in from the sides. … But it’s better than nothing. For (Norman Regional Health Foundation) staff, we’re not clinical. So when we go outside and pick up a donation, we wear our (cloth) masks.”

Businesses and community members have also been stepping up their relief efforts, Barnhart said. The foundation received masks from local dentists, food delivered from local restaurants, face protection from OU’s chemistry labs and monetary donations from local companies.

Barnhart said, outside of cloth masks, hospitals have other serious needs. The foundation is asking for donations of N95 surgical and isolation masks, hand sanitizer with 70 percent or higher alcohol content, lab safety goggles, protective face shields and isolation gowns or ponchos. 

Donations can be dropped off at the south entrance of the Norman Regional Health System from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Barnhart said donors should pull up to the patient drop-off area and call 405-307-1077 for a staff member to come to the car and retrieve the donation.

Sewing patterns for cloth masks are available on the foundation's blog and from the fabric store Joann. Community members may also donate money to the foundation's new COVID-19 relief fund, Care2020, online or by making a check out to the Norman Regional Health Foundation and mailing it to P.O. Box 1665, Norman, OK, 73070.

“Especially this type of pandemic, it affects everyone,” Barnhart said. “The hand-sewn masks (are) something tangible that people can make, and it takes their mind off of things. For a couple of hours, they're not thinking about being inside their home. One mask makes a difference. One mask, one bottle of hand sanitizer. If everybody just pitches in a little bit, then we can get through this.” 

Beth Wallis is a senior journalism major and political science minor, and junior news reporter for The Daily. She covers university research efforts.

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