Coronavirus: Cork groups come together to protect most vulnerable in society

The WHO has been considering an update on advice on wearing face masks to fight the virus after a US study suggested that a sneeze or cough could travel much further than previously thought
Coronavirus: Cork groups come together to protect most vulnerable in society
'Sanctuary Mask' makers Violeta Nimani, Olga Voytenko and Rudina Zhuka with some of the masks made to protect residents of Direct Provision centres. Picture: Larry Cummins

By Liz Dunphy and Christy Parker

People across the country are volunteering their time and expertise to make protective masks to combat the spread of Covid-19.

The WHO has been considering an update on advice on wearing face masks to fight the virus after a US study suggested that a sneeze or cough could travel much further than previously thought - up to 8m - and masks, worn properly, may contain that spread.

Sanctuary Masks Initiative (SMI) was dreamed up by Vera Stojanovic, co-ordinator with charity Better Together.

Helped by Cork Migrant Centre, UCC University of Sanctuary, UCC Feminist, Fáilte Refugees Societies, and designer Charlotte Cargin, SMI collected and distributed sewing machines, fabric, elastic and thread to 10 women with sewing skills living in all five direct provision centres in Cork.

Women at the Kinsale Road Accommodation Centre have already produced hundreds of masks this week, and all five centres will be producing thousands for some of Ireland’s most vulnerable from Monday.

The target is to first make 6,000 pure cotton and linen masks to give three to each of the 2,000 people living in direct provision in Cork. The masks may also be distributed to other vulnerable groups before SMI takes orders from the wider public.

Ms Cargin, Kinsale-based designer with clothing label Charlotte and Jane, said SMI's work is vital to help support and protect some of our most vulnerable at this time.

“There are 2,000 people living in direct provision in Cork and they are very vulnerable, with barely any opportunity to self-isolate or social distance, so the priority is to make masks for them first,” she said.

It’s also giving employment to women with sewing skills in direct provision.

An information leaflet in multiple languages with HSE and WHO guidelines on mask use and sanitation will be distributed with each mask.

Youn can donate to the project's GoFundMe page or email sanctuarymaskinitiative@gmail.com.

Another Cork-based project is making protective face shields with 3D printers and a laser cutter to donate to frontline health workers.

The group, which started at Benchspace co-making space in Cork city and has since extended throughout the country, currently has 65 people with a collective capacity to make 3000 shields per week.

On Monday, the face shields were approved for the HSE supply chain. You can also donate to their GoFundMe page.

An official supplier of GAA merchandise has also moved into manufacturing face masks to fight Covid-19.

Waterford-based Azzurri Sport Ltd, assisted by local businesses Sheridan Signs and Metalman Engineering, delivered 5,000 free, reusable masks to over 40 outlets in its first week.

Using a laser-based cutting technique, it hopes to surpass that number this week with instructions included on correct use the masks.

Viral protection material, with the same viral protection standards as surgical clothing, is used to make the masks, Azzurri owner and manager John Molloy said.

But the high production cost makes free supply unsustainable in the long run.

“We’re not doing it for profit and will significantly subsidise the masks, but the real problem is that once you start charging, they must be officially certified as masks, to EU standards," Mr Molloy said.

It has to pass through an independent test house and it can take weeks, if not months.

The company is now deferring to the HSE for a solution to the certification impasse unless another way is found to cover the manufacturing costs.

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