Mask Up

Preparing to Face Covid-19

Remember the first time you wore a face mask in public? Did it take you some time for the self-conscious awkwardness to disappear?

Over a hundred years ago when Australia faced the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic, mask wearing and vaccinations were seen as the pathway out. Intense interstate rivalries over case numbers and widespread complaints about mask-wearing arose once again in 2020 with the world-wide outbreak of Sars-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the disease named Covid-19). And just like a century earlier, the Covid-19 pandemic saw face masks in short supply.

In response to global supply shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and environmental concerns over single use hospital masks, homemade fabric masks became popular. Simple to construct, clothing manufacturers, wardrobe departments from theatre companies, and home crafters all started producing face masks to meet demand. Patterns for various styles of face masks were available online and courtesy of various promoters, from individual crafters via social media to government websites.

Like the pandemic a century earlier, it was women who did much of the sewing, using scrap material and offcuts to fashion safety wear for the community. So long as the guidelines were followed – combining three layers of tight woven material to create a moisture impermeable layer, or to include a pocket for a replaceable HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter – these homemade masks performed a vital, even life-saving, role.