*Editor’s note: Carly Wipf is a journalism students in SF State’s Journalism 575 Community Media this spring. Taught by professor Jon Funabiki, the class is a collaboration with El Tecolote.
While UCSF just started offering free COVID-19 testing to people living in the Mission District, not everyone who tests positive will be able to get effectively treated. Therefore, simple preventative measures such as wearing masks are an important part of keeping the community safe. With the heightened need for masks, two Bay Area locals are rising to meet the demand.
Before the shelter-in-place order, Marisol Catchings-Frank, a resident of Hayward, went to Mexico every year with her mother to buy fabric for her business, Azteca Negra. Her colorful headwraps, earrings and headbands were popular among clients. But when COVID-19 spread across the globe, a new consumer trend emerged that would dominate her and other crafters’ lives for the following weeks: masks.
Catchings-Frank planned to spend her shelter-in-place days getting her house in order and spending some quality time with her husband. As the need for masks grew in the Bay Area, her mother started making them for friends that worked in hospitals. Catchings-Frank publicized the extra masks on the Aztec Negra social Instagram page and was flooded with requests. She began mass production alongside family and friends.
Azteca Negra is now selling masks to the public and offering free masks to health-care workers via a request form on their website. She’s received more than 200 requests from healthcare workers, a first batch for purchase sold out in 10 minutes. The next week, she sold out 77 masks in 30 minutes.
“I don’t think I realized how much hospitals were missing essential equipment,” said Catchings-Frank. “It’s really eye-opening and scary.”
Azteca Negra masks are made out of cloth, meaning they do not have the same level of effective filtration as N95 masks. But for healthcare workers, she is adding filtration slots giving them the option to insert filters or to place a surgical mask underneath. But for the general population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states a simple cloth face covering can slow the spread of COVID-19.
Los Angeles resident Lilli Romero-Riddell managed to get a mask before Azteca Negra sold out on the second round of sales. She has been trying to buy masks from small businesses to support the local economy. For Romero-Riddell, wearing a mask means protecting her two-year-old daughter and unborn child.
According to a study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, out of all the children who tested positive for the virus, children under five years old are at a higher risk of getting a serious case of coronavirus, even though younger individuals are overall less likely than those 65 years or older to develop a severe case. According to the CDC, wearing masks can help people avoid spreading the virus to others. The CDC also recommends that children ages two and older wear a mask when going outside.
Romero-Riddell said her daughter refuses to wear a mask, but Azteca Negra recently created a “kids-size” for little faces needing protection.
“Every time I’ve purchased a mask online, especially from small businesses, they’ve sold out relatively quickly, and they’ve had to push their production time because people are so interested in supporting these companies,” Romero-Riddell said. “I think that’s really great. I just hope that the spirit can continue after the virus is cured.”
Stuck-at-home sewing, advocacy for the undocumented
Adriana Camarena has lots of hobbies: writing, advocacy, curling and lately sewing. When she heard about the mask demand, she found two patterns made by nurses and tweaked them.
Although she typically works from a home office, her sewing operation has since extended to other parts of the house. She promised her husband that she would only use half of the living room table for her mask making so they could use the other half for dinner.
She made a mask for her mailman, multiple masks for the family of Jesus Aldolfo Delgado—a victim of police violence—and a mask for an interpreter friend who works in hospitals.
But simply making the masks and donating them was not enough.
“I just realized that I wanted to do a little bit more,” Camarena said. “I started encouraging people to make donations to the Undocu[mented] Fund or other funds in the Bay Area that support undocumented families who have no other support.”
Undocumented individuals do not qualify for the government stimulus checks or unemployment, which can make it more difficult for them to stay financially stable amid shelter in place directives or receive care if they test positive for COVID-19.
Camarena created a Facebook page called Undocumasks to connect with potential donors. Mask buyers get to decide which organization they want their mask proceeds to assist.
All of the proceeds from mask sales go to one of eight organizations that help undocumented immigrants including: Undocufund SF, Mission Asset Fund Direct Cash Aid, Migrant Youth Relief Fund (Bay Area), SF Bay Area Mutual Relief Fund, Techqueria COVID-19 fund for undocumented workers, Oakland Undocumented Relief Fund, Undocumented Fund in Sonoma County and Root & Rebound COVID-19 Fund.
As of April 29, she has raised $520.
While Camarena is creating masks with light-hearted patterns featuring luchadores (Mexican wrestlers) and San Francisco Giants logos, she is also using masks to further her advocacy.
The phrase “Justice for Luis Góngora Pat”—honoring a man killed by police in 2016—stretched across one batch of masks made using old fundraising tee shirts that did not sell. Armed with a team of community members, Camerena delivered 50 masks and 30 bottles of hand sanitizer to migrant workers around Cesar Chavez Street on April 29.
Jose Gongora Pat and Luis Poot Pat, brother and cousin of Luis Góngora Pat, were instrumental in helping Camarena deliver the masks and together, they encouraged the workers to also get tested.
Camarerna encourages people to contribute by purchasing a mask. But if you cannot order masks from a local business or do not have the funds to donate, you can still do your part by making masks at home. The CDC website has instructions for how to make a mask (sew and no-sew methods). You can also see Camarena’s mask tutorial for El Tecolote here.