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  • Writer's pictureSLOEYE

Local Doctor makes hundreds of masks

Dr. Rena Stathacopoulos, San Luis Obispo’s Pediatric Ophthalmologist, is making handmade fabric masks for patients, staff, and friends during the COVID-19 public health crisis. We talked to her about why she does it.

Why did you start making masks for kids?

Dr. S: I noticed that many young children, especially those 3-6 years old, did not have masks. And, if they did, they fit poorly. Already making masks for family, friends, and office staff, I decided to try and make some for children.

I am trying to give one mask to each child, ages 3-6 who visits my office. I started in June and children and parents really seem to appreciate it. Kids get excited. I think it helps if their doctor gives them a mask; it helps encourage them to wear one.

Are there special issues with masks for children?

Dr. S: First of all, children 2 and under should not wear masks at all. Masks are recommended for ages 3 and up unless there is a medical contraindication. The biggest issue with any mask is that it fit and be comfortable to wear. If it doesn’t fit well, more air and droplets escape around the edges. If it’s not comfortable, a child won’t leave it on.

How did you decide on a design?

Dr. S: I watched tons of YouTube videos and then got my 25 year old sewing machine into action. After lots of trial and error, I finally created a design that hugs the face, has a moldable metal nose-piece

, soft adjustable ear loops, and creates a 3D pocket in front of the face so children don’t feel the mask pressed against their face all the time.

Do masks stop COVID-19?

Dr. S: No mask completely “stops” COVID-19 (not even a medical grade N95). To be clear—my fabric masks are not medical masks. Fabric masks are just the face coverings recommended by the CDC to possibly help prevent the spread of the virus. The idea is that they reduce the amount of virus a person (who may not know they are infected) breathes and coughs into the air around them. They may also modestly reduce the amount of virus a person inhales. The point is, if everyone reduces what they breathe out into the air and there is some reduction in what one breathes in, then together, this strategy of having everyone wear masks and socially distance helps. Masks are especially important if people are close together or in an enclosed area where the virus can hang in the air.

What are your masks made of and why?

Dr. S: Most information available is recommending a double layer cotton mask and that is what I am using.

How does one care for a fabric mask?

Dr. S: One should wash hands before and after taking a mask on or off. Try not to touch masks or your face while wearing. Ideally a mask should be washed each day it is used. Hand washing with soap or detergent and air drying is sufficient. Soap disrupts the lipid (fatty) coating on the outside of the virus; without that coating the virus can’t infects cells. One does not need a special “antibacterial soap or cleanser”. This is also why washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap works. The best strategy is to have several masks, one for each day, and then wash them all every few days.

This is a lot of work. Do you plan to keep doing this?

Dr. S: For the time being yes. Kids need masks, and it’s hard to find ones that fit small children. I think during this crisis we should all do something small to help our local community and this is my small contribution

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