Yukoners sew homemade cloth masks to meet high demand

People sewing masks in Whitehorse say the orders keep coming. This, as Canada's chief public health officer softens her stance on them.

Non-medical masks more likely to protect others than person wearing them

Rebel Vegh retrieves her order of cloth masks from Renueva, a sewing and alterations shop in Whitehorse. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The demand for homemade masks in Yukon is high — and it's been that way since even before Canada's chief public health officer said it could be beneficial to wear them in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In a change from her previous stance, Dr. Theresa Tam now says non-medical masks could be worn as an additional measure to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.  

But many Yukoners didn't wait for Tam's go-ahead to put in their mask order. The owner of a sewing and repair store in Whitehorse said she's already made about 200. 

Some of the masks by Martinez. She's made about 200 cloth masks so far at her shop, Renueva, in Whitehorse. (Submitted by Renueva)

"We need it, so I'm glad to [sic] help with the community," said Karin Martinez of Renueva.  

Martinez said she follows a pattern that's being used at a hospital in France, made from cotton and fleece.  

Karin Martinez owns Renueva, which means 'renew' in Spanish, a sewing and alterations shop in Whitehorse. (Karen McColl/CBC)

Sydney Wolf, an apprentice tailor by trade, is also making masks, but from the comfort of her home.

Wolf is immunocompromised and said she first made masks for herself and her husband. After that, people started asking her to make them. She's made about 90 so far.

Wolf said the repetition of making them helps her deal with the anxiety she feels about the pandemic.

Sydney Wolf started getting orders for cloth masks after she made them for herself and her husband. (Submitted by Sydney Wolf)

"I love sewing. I figured I should do something to help other people, too. It makes me feel really, really good."

Both Wolf and Martinez sell masks in various sizes.

Cloth masks could reduce chance of infecting others

Tam previously said there was no need for healthy people to wear masks.

While she still maintains that medical masks should be reserved for front-line health-care workers, she now says that wearing a non-medical mask, along with following physical distancing measures, can limit the transmission of COVID-19.

She said they might help by preventing a person's respiratory droplets from reaching another person or surface. She said the masks should be well-fitted, with no gaps.

Some of the masks by Sydney Wolf. She says she makes the masks in four sizes. (Submitted by Sydney Wolf)

In a press briefing Monday, Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon's chief medical officer, spoke about homemade masks.

"A homemade mask has not been shown to protect the person wearing it," he said. "It could be, though, that wearing a mask, particularly in crowded settings, can be a way to help the chance of you infecting others.

"In other words, think of cloth masks as another way to cover your face when you cough."

Medical experts say that wearing a mask does not replace the need for physical distancing, hand washing and other recommended measures.