A global network of at-home creators are finding ways to help health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic

March 26, 2020, 8:37 PM UTC

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We are all makers now.

For the healthy, the safe, and the very, very fortunate, sheltering in place has been an opportunity to start making things. Content things, comedy things, music things, crafty things, robot things, furniture things, all the things. Perhaps it’s the soothing white noise of spinning KitchenAid blades, but y’all seem to be making a scary amount of sourdough bread out there. Whatever the motivation, it’s nice to see.

But much of the making appears to be designed to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic itself.

Consider 6 Feet Covers, a side project from creative directors Beto Fernandez and Paco Conde, founders of Los Angeles-based agency Activista.

The pair became alarmed after observing groups of people flocking to parks and beaches in spite of the city’s “safer-at-home” order. Their creative solution was to recreate 16 iconic album covers—among them, Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, Wild Planet by the B-52s, Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A.—with their human subjects newly positioned to reflect the need to respect new social distancing requirements. It’s both funny and affecting. “Social feeds are suddenly full of sad and scary news, so we thought we should do something more lighthearted and fun, while still keeping the importance of the message,” Fernandez tells Fast Company.

6 Feet Covers Project
The B-52’s and Fleetwod Mac album covers redesigned to show social distancing practices.
Courtesy of Paco Conde and Beto Fernandez

Others are putting their maker skills to work to help the health care professionals and hospital workers who are increasingly overwhelmed by coronavirus patients and running out of the protective gear they need to stay disease-free. Doctors and nurses are at extreme risk, and it’s a better-than-nothing world now.

If you’ve got access to a 3D printer, you can join a global effort to create pretty good versions of respirator masks and plastic face shields. And lots of people do!

In response to the ambitious social-media led #MillionMaskChallenge, engineering teachers and students at the Charlotte Latin School, a K-12 school in Charlotte, North Carolina, have created a face shield of their own design in their Fab Lab Academy.

Now, they’re raising funds and cranking out equipment.

Similar DIY efforts are happening in Billings, Mont. Tennessee. East Lansing, Mich. Greely, Colo. All over.

Look at what this 13-year-old kid from Virginia managed to get done with his parent’s 3D printer and instructions he found on the web.

And if you squint and look at it sideways, even scuba masks can work as ventilators.

Help is also coming in lower-tech form, as an army of sewers has coalesced into a wartime-worthy effort to make cloth face masks. 

“Sewers, we’ve always stepped up and done this thing,” Denise Voss, the head of the Inland Empire chapter of the American Sewing Guild tells the New York Times. “We’re made for this time. We’re happy to stay home and sew. And we all have stashes of fabric.” The Guild has about 130 members in Southern California, and they’re filling orders for hundreds of masks from the Riverside University Health System Medical Center.

Professional makers are also doing their part, challenging and collaborating with each other in interesting ways.

Jessica Helfand, founding editor of Design Observer (and my co-host on The Design of Business | The Business of Design podcast) notes in her new daily (and must-read) column that the professional design community is also stepping up to the urgent business at hand:

“Today, the roughly 175,000 ventilators in all American hospitals are expected to be far fewer than needed to handle a surge of patients who, in coming weeks, will be desperate for breath… Meanwhile, a global race is now underway to design and engineer new alternatives: the CoVent-19 challenge (‘Innovate to Ventilate’) is one of a host of efforts looking to produce rapidly deployable ventilation solutions for patients. The Code Life challenge—a brilliant Canadian initiative—is another. Engineers at MIT are developing a manual resuscitator powered by an Arduino-controlled motor, and in the U.K., Sir James Dyson’s ventilator—which he designed in a remarkable ten days—is currently in production.”

This effort is more than just inspiring, it’s essential. 

Ed Yong, in this sobering piece for The Atlantic, warns that there are four steps that must happen immediately if we are to have any chance at all of mitigating the onslaught of the coronavirus in the U.S. “The first and most important is to rapidly produce masks, gloves, and other personal protective equipment,” he writes. “If health-care workers can’t stay healthy, the rest of the response will collapse.”

Thank you for your service, makers. I’m looking forward to the future national holiday dedicated to everyone who helped us laugh, bake, think, stitch, and print our way back to health. I will be bringing homemade sourdough rolls to the picnic in y’alls honor—some newly minted home baker posted their grandmother’s special recipe and they look delish.  

Ellen McGirt

On Point

The economic stimulus package explained Late last night, the U.S. Senate approved the largest emergency aid package in history, despite lots of last-minute drama. What’s in it and what does it mean? We got you covered. Do you have a stimulus check in your future? Rey Mashayekhi has your answer. Lucinda Shen finds that while there’s some good news for gig workers, tech startups may be left behind. Eamon Barrett says the package has some good news for Green New Dealers, but probably not enough. How are we going to pay for it? Robert Hackett says it’s all about the coins. Two of them, to be exact.

A word about Howard University… Part of the $2 trillion COVID-19 related economic stimulus package is a $13 million line item for Howard University. This rubbed Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz the wrong way. “$13,000,000 in taxpayer funds could be going to families across the nation struggling to put food on the table in the midst of COVID-19. Instead, it's going to Howard University. Education is important—but a $13 million check to Howard does not belong in COVID-19 relief,” he tweeted. Gillian Brockell, a reporter for the Washington Post did the work so I don’t have to. “Howard University has a hospital that has been designated one of D.C.'s COVID-19 treatment facilities. It is located 2.1 miles from Rep. Gaetz's workplace,” she tweeted. Howard University also has a tier one trauma center. The more you know, HUH.
The Root

Nurses share their coronavirus stories Using an anonymous form, more than 1,200 nurses and related health care workers have been sharing details of their horrific working conditions since the pandemic really took hold. It is grim, grim stuff. The online document was launched on March 19 by Sonja Schwartzbach, a nurse in New Jersey, who is hoping to draw attention to an under-covered story. “This isn’t a polite request: This is an urgent demand. Tell me your story. Share your situations. I understand that it can feel challenging to be candid as a health care provider, but this is the difference between life and death.” Follow her on Instagram.
New York Times

On Background

Speaking of making… Please enjoy this corona-themed remake of Bohemian Rhapsody. And when you're done, please enjoy this original song that functions as a coronavirus health PSA created by Ugandan pop star and politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, in collaboration with reggaeton artist Nubian Li. Get your toes tapping while you wash those hands.
Adrian Grimes via YouTube and AVClub

The fraught history of motherhood and child safety The lead-up to the shelter-in-place orders were a nightmare for all parents—is school safe? Playdates? Can I ethically get a babysitter? Looking back, Jessica Grose, the lead editor of NYT Parenting, notes that it’s the policing and shaming of moms, in particular, that's the most wounding. Before March 15, there was no consensus. “The local mom message boards were lit up with shaming and countershaming: You’re hysterical for pulling them out! No, you’re crazy for keeping them in!” This has been the norm for a while. “The coronavirus pandemic reminds us that mothers have been unfairly blamed for their children’s illnesses, even in the face of public health crises, for decades.” But it hasn’t always been true.
New York Times Opinion

Please put self-care on top of your to-do list You can do this by setting self-care intentions, says Dr. Bernasha Anderson, a psychotherapist writing in Zora. “The setting of self-care intentions is a goal-setting approach to self-care that invites creativity and flexibility,” she writes. “Our self-care intentions should shift based on our unique needs at a given point in time. Setting self-care intentions means first asking yourself, What is it that I need today? Or this week?” She offers some suggestions, none of which mention weeping into a quart of ice cream. But making things makes the list. By the way, you’re allowed to feel some joy even during very bad times.

Tamara El-Waylly produces raceAhead and manages the op-ed program.


“So today I didn’t realize I was off mute and told the Democratic Caucus (including a couple recent presidential candidates) that ‘...mommy is working honey, please go potty and wash your hands then mommy will come downstairs.’  How’s your working from home going?”

—U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, sharing her day via Twitter.

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