Yesterday my next door neighbor, an oncology nurse, told me that her workplace only has a week of masks left in stock and that the chemotherapy patients are terrified. Her partner also works in a hospital, this one with a reported two weeks of masks. I knew then it was finally time to sew, so I am beginning with masks for their household but hoping to help their co-workers, too. In January I began to have lurid dreams about what was to come, gathered mask making supplies: fabric, elastic, and filter material. Whoever I told back in January doubted and sometimes teased me well into February, some into March, but the dreams of a pandemic came with dreams of a leaky ceiling in my house, which ultimately also came true, and every prediction I wrote down in my journals seemed to be coming true, too. I could barely talk to anyone the first two months of the year because people I considered otherwise sensible were being flamboyant denialists or respectable-toned-minimizers. I, on the other hand, had a disreputable and supernatural sense of certainty, the future sharing a double screen with the present as in a movie. The screenplay was written by someone who abused irony and worshiped horror.
I read in Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year about the inexplicable rise in astrology and fortune telling in the year before the plague. This was matched to by an outbreak of prayer and piety. I, too, already accidentally telling fortunes, also began to believe in God. Perhaps to know with illogical urgency that a pandemic is on the way is like how a cat can sense another cat who is slinking outside the closed door. This is probably also the way we know God (as a cat who is slinking outside the closed door). To believe in the divine cat slinking outside the closed door is also to be certain at once of our species worth and our species weakness. Perhaps there’s a note taped on the outside of that door, too, that says, “the only law is love,” but we will never know for certain and believe ourselves half-mad that we believe as we do, only being able to offer the atmosphere for evidence.
Along with the mask making supplies I also got some copper tape and copper mesh in the hopes of using copper's virus resistant nature to create a better re-usable mask. Apparently the ion's in the copper are like wee powerful anti-viral explosives. I wish the world were covered in copper or that someone had been clever enough to make copper masks before we needed them. If I could, I would be a Midas of copper. Along with being less infectious, a copper-clad world would be better looking. As I made supply kits for friends, I put in lengths of copper tape, the mad person telling them to wrap it around their doorknobs. I also cleaned the high touch surfaces at work every time I entered the building. I had tried to tell everyone that they needed to get ready for history, but it is normal to think that we are exempt from history until, of course, we aren't.
There are a lot of different patterns online now for mask making, and mask drives forming in every community. The ones I have been making are four layers of tightly woven fabric (at least one of them reinforced with iron-on interfacing) cut in 6x9 inch rectangles, pleated three times, with a tuck in the chin, floral wire sewn in across the nose bridge, and a layer of two of non-woven polypropylene filter material tucked between the fabric. Some have a pocket sewn into the interior in which more filter material can be placed. I've experimented with ribbon ties, ear loop elastic, and around-the-head elastic. The advantage of the ribbons is they will last longer in high heat washes. The advantage of the elastic is that it is easier to take on and off. You ought to just use what is on hand -- old clothes, sheets, whatever else -- and use a pattern you think fits your skill level and available equipment. Some just require scissors. If you are making masks, which I hope you are, your primary concern should be that they can be sterilized by boiling or washing/ drying on high heat. You must make certain, too, that you sterilize them before donating them to others.
Homemade masks won't offer medical-grade protection, but it sure beats the CDC suggestion that health care workers tie bandanas and dishtowels around their faces. Despite the futile anti-mask propaganda campaign run by western governments who could not yet admit to their criminal lack of planning, anyone who is still working in the public or caring for the sick, even at home, needs to cover their nose and mouth. Any facial recognition software trying to spot me must now admit that if I am anywhere where people are, half my face will be covered in vintage calico. I don't think much of literary activity at this minute, so I am also expanding the garden to make more room for food, thinking that people might need it or at least enjoy it. I have to anticipate what to do about garden pests in past years I patiently indulged, once so laissez-faire about beetles on peaches. I spent a lot of time, too, worrying, being heartbroken about border shut downs, worrying about my daughter who home from New York, is self-quarantining and too-often coughing in the attic room where I usually write.
I had tried to gently prepare my students, too, and had them think in advance about ways they could help others if things got bad, knowing that a reliable way to cope with disaster is to find a way to be helpful and good. It is only in that morbid state of doing nothing, helping no one or not believing we can, that we are ruined. Early in the semester I had said to them: "Please be prepared that despite everything seeming like it will go on the same way forever, anything that happened to any human being at any point in history could also happen to you."