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El Pasoans rush to provide COVID-19 facemasks — and make a statement


With federal officials now recommending facemasks as a means of slowing the spread of COVID-19, El Paso designers and seamstresses have begun producing masks for friends and family, or to donate to the medical community. 

Aaron Torres, an El Paso fashion designer known as Sleep, Never, has been making masks for anyone who DMs him on Instagram, and then personally delivering them. He offers these face-coverings on a donation basis, and is not denying anyone a mask based on lack of funds. 

“The idea of assembly production and sewing is not foreign to me, so it felt like an opportunity to step up and use my skill-set to help people,” he said. 

Sleep, Never masks can be ordered via direct message on Instagram.

Torres lives at Artspace, a community live/work space for artists in Downtown El Paso. He has hired four other artists to help assemble the masks. Orders for masks can be placed with Sleep, Never via direct message on Instagram, or through emailing sleepneverclothing@gmail.com 

Volunteers making masks for medical professionals

A new coalition of volunteers, the Angels of El Paso, has joined forces to produce masks for health-care providers. They are actively seeking additional seamstresses to help in mass-production of masks, and have launched a Gofundme to help cover the cost of supplies. These masks are exclusively being donated to medical professionals. 

Read more: El Paso Matters coverage of COVID-19 impacts on our community

What masks can do

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that all Americans wear cloth face coverings in public settings, including places like grocery stores and pharmacies. However, President Trump declared that he would not be wearing a mask, and emphasized that it was voluntary. 

A primary reason that the CDC changed its recommendation is because a high percentage of people with COVID-19 are entirely asymptomatic, and transmission of the novel coronavirus can occur from asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic people. While the virus is most likely to be transmitted in airborne droplets through a cough or a sneeze, studies of influenza have shown that people can release these airborne aerosols simply through breathing or talking. 

The most compelling reason to wear a face covering is to protect others from the mask-wearer. In order words, one should cover their face in case they have COVID-19 but do not have any symptoms. This helps to protect the community and minimize the virus’ spread.

Wearing a cloth face covering does offer protection as well, but only if certain safety measures are taken. For instance, if a person is wearing a cloth mask and someone sneezes on them, the wearer should not touch the exterior of the mask and should wash it immediately thereafter (removing it from behind the ears).

Aaron Torres of Sleep, Never models one of his masks. (Photo courtesy of Sleep, Never)

The CDC has shared guidelines for making do-it-yourself masks, with instructions for both sewn masks and no-sew masks. Additionally, the CDC does not recommend that non-medical professionals wear or obtain surgical or N95 respirators because of shortages among the medical community. 

Masks make a statement

Torres says wearing a mask can be more than a health measure.

“Although it’s been intense and exhausting (mass-producing masks), I then think about how intense and exhausting it must be for the people on the frontlines. One of the beautiful things about this is that, through this crisis, we’re seeing unity — it’s bringing people together to help each other out,” he said.

Cover photo courtesy of Sleep, Never

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René Kladzyk

René Kladzyk is a musician and writer based in El Paso. She performs original music as Ziemba, and has written for publications including Teen Vogue, i-D, and The Creative Independent. She has a new album coming out on Sister Polygon Records in fall 2020, and is hopeful that we’ll be able to enjoy live music together IRL again soon enough.

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