Hand-made mask covers alleviate desperate situation

Yunlin County Heping Elementary School principal Lo Jui-jung (left) and Parents' Association president Tsai Yu-chi display mask covers they made for students in the Feb. 18 photo (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — As waiting in queues to buy rationed surgical masks has become a harsh routine for many people in Taiwan amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease COVID-19, the quick-witted have come up with the idea of making covers for such masks to prolong their lifespan.

Hand-made mask covers made with cotton cloth are becoming popular as people on the crowded island seek to resolve the problem of a supply shortage.

The phenomenon has prompted some civic groups, schools and even correction institutes with sewing skills to make the accessories or give courses on how to make them with scraps of leftover cloth at home.

Recently, a lecture was opened at the Department of Fashion Styling and Design of Yu Da University of Science and Technology in Miaoli County, with students making mask covers for charity — giving them out for free to socially-disadvantaged elderly people who live alone in remote areas of the county.

There are no pharmacies in some remote villages linked to the National Health Insurance (NHI) system to sell rationed masks, Yu Da University President Leo Huang (黃榮鵬) told CNA Tuesday. Therefore, their residents, mostly senior people, have to travel to other towns or village health centers for their purchases.

“Some even have to ride a bicycle for over 10 kilometers” to buy just three masks, he said.

After learning about the dire situation of the seniors, teachers and students with sewing skills initiated the charity campaign to share their care, Huang said.

Due to high demand amid the COVID-19 epidemic, the Taiwan government has been requisitioning all masks produced in the country and rationing them to consumers after supplying hospitals and healthcare workers.

Under the rationing system that began Feb. 6, anyone can buy disposable surgical masks on Sundays at designated drugstores and pharmacies, once they present their NHI cards, while on the other days of the week, sales are staggered based on the last digit of the ID number on the buyer’s NHI card.

Each card is limited to a purchase of three masks every seven days.

In addition to Yu Da, the production of the mask covers have also been undertaken by some civic groups devoted to care for the underprivileged in cities and counties, including Taichung and Hsinchu County, and in the prisons that provide sewing classes to their inmates.

During an informal meeting with the press Feb. 26, Justice Minister Tsai Ching-hsiang (蔡清祥) revealed that mask cover production is being undertaken at several prisons around the nation.

This will not only allow inmates to acquire sewing skills but also help ease demand from society, he said.

Justice Minister Tsai Ching-hsiang (CNA)

For Taichung City Councilor Chiu Su-chen (邱素貞), sewing mask covers is not a challenge thanks to her fondness of doing needlework as a pastime. “Such covers can prolong mask lifespan, but they have to be washed every day for hygiene purposes,” she said.

Medical experts have suggested that mask cover users wash their covers every day, and discard the wrapped surgical masks every two to three days, particularly when the weather is hot.

Also, people are advised to wear surgical masks without the covers during visits to hospitals or places where the risk of virus transmission is high, such as crowded and confined spaces.

Hospitals frequently remind visitors to discard their masks right after leaving, given the risk that the virus could spread through airborne droplets that have landed on used masks.

Taiwan Adventist Hospital physician Su Chih-sheng (蘇志盛) said mask covers are a “nice” alternative for mass transportation commuters or people who may stay in confined spaces for short periods of time, but definitely not for medical and quarantine personnel.

Mask cover course at Pinglin District Office in New Taipei (CNA)