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Woman with Breathing Problems Helps Battle Mask Shortage


In this photo taken on Thursday, March 19, 2020, Sien Lagae, works on a mouth mask, meant to help protect agains the spread of Covid-19 at her sewing machine at her home at Torhout, Belgium
Woman with Breathing Problems Helps Battle Mask Shortage
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Sien Lagae of Belgium has only 20 percent of lung capacity. She was already careful to avoid viruses even before the COVID-19 crisis. Lagae has depended on caregivers for years. They help her get dressed, clean her house and provide her with health care at her home.

Recently, one of her caregivers told Lagae she had paid 10 euros for a mask to protect herself and others from the virus. That gave Lagae, who loves to sew, an idea.

“I…had the idea to make some face masks for my physiotherapist so that she could protect herself and her patients better,” Lagae said.

What started as a one-person operation about a week ago has grown into a small army of at-home Belgian mask makers. Lagae opened the effort with a Facebook page called Sewing Mouth Masks. She had 3,000 members within two days. On Friday, that number rose to 5,300.

Belgian medical officials provided Lagae with a design for masks and advised her on what materials she should use. She uses two layers of cotton cloth so that the masks can be washed in very hot water and reused.

Each person on the team makes about 20 masks per day and not all the producers are female.

“We have plenty of men,” she said. “Everyone who wants to help is welcome, even if you only make one a day.”

The coronavirus spreads mainly through drops of liquid expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Masks that cover the mouth and nose are an important tool in blocking the droplets. However, there is a severe shortage of masks in hospitals around the world, leaving health care workers exposed.

The World Health Organization is asking manufacturers to increase their mask production by 40 percent. And Belgium’s Van De Velde lingerie company is now producing masks for hospitals. The hospitals provide the material to the company and Van De Velde provides the labor for free.

Among Belgium’s new volunteer mask makers is Anaïs Moyson. She is staying at home with her 3-year-old child because of Belgium’s coronavirus restrictions. Moyson said her sister-in-law delivers babies in hospital. The midwife and her coworkers are affected by the mask shortage. So, Moyson decided to help them by making masks. “I will also bring some to my doctors in the neighborhood and to the nursing homes, ” she added.

Volunteer Lies Astro is sewing masks for family and friends.

She could not find masks anywhere so, she said, she made one for herself. “Everyone was laughing at me,” she added, “and now all my friends want one,” she said.

I’m Jill Robbins.

The Associated Press reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

capacity - n. the amount that can be held in a room or container

mask - n. a clothe that goes around the face, mouth or eyes

sew - v. to use thread to combine pieces of fabric

physiotherapist - n. a medical professional who works to strengthen the body

lingerie - n. clothing worn underneath outer garments

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