A hospital in Evansville, Indiana, reached out last month and asked people to sew their own masks to donate in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Kiya Tomlin, the wife of Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, realized she was in perfect position to help as a clothing designer.
Three weeks later, Tomlin is knocking out at least 500 homemade masks each week with her four-person team.
“We couldn't finish our spring collection, so when we're sitting at home doing nothing, we can sew this until it's time to go back to work," Tomlin told ESPN on Friday. "I didn't realize how fast and big the demand was going to be where now we have to deliver. Masks can be made. We make masks now."
After making the decision to get involved while stuck in a stay-at-home order like millions of other Americans, Tomlin and her team quickly rounded up all the fabric they could find, even making trips to Walmart and JOANN Fabrics and ordering in bulk.
It took them about a week to figure out the best way to go about it, as they initially wanted to make the official N95 masks.Eventually, Tomlin settled on simple double-walled cotton masks with elastic on both sides to go over the ears, which are CDC compliant. While they can’t be used by doctors and nurses fighting the pandemic on the front lines, there is still plenty of use for them.
“They are for the hospital support staff,” Tomlin told Steelers.com. “They aren’t going to the surgeons and nurses. They are for the auxiliary people, and that frees the higher protection masks for doctors and nurses at higher risk dealing with the patients.”
Tomlin uses her home sewing machine for each mask, and said it takes her about eight minutes per mask. Her goal each day is to hit 50 by herself, though it was a bit of an adjustment switching from the industrial machines she uses at work.
There were more than 275,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of Friday night, according to The New York Times, more than double the amount in any other country. Pennsylvania had nearly 8,500 cases, too, the ninth-most in U.S.
So far, Tomlin has been dropping off masks to local hospitals in Pittsburgh and shipping them to hospitals in New York and Cleveland. She plans to start selling masks on her website, too, and use the proceeds to buy more materials and donate more masks to hospitals in need.
And with officials now asking everyone in the United States to wear a cloth mask of some sort when leaving the house, Tomlin is just happy to be able to help out.
“It's hard to sit here and watch, and people that you know are risking their lives underprepared to take care of people and we are all worried about getting our hands dirty at the grocery store,” Tomlin told Steelers.com. “It's good to be able to support those people, even though I can't do what they do. What I do is in support for them. What I have heard they appreciate it and I am happy to do it.”
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