Local group of Chinese moms, teens hand-make masks to help fight spread of COVID-19

RICHLAND, Wash. — As a country-wide shortage of protective medical equipment continues, frontline workers helping others are struggling to keep themselves safe while doing so.

Many have stepped up to help fill the need, including a local group of 16 Chinese women and two teens. They hope to push back on any negative perceptions of Chinese people that may be circulating right now.

“It’s become a positive report of Chinese people helping out in the community,” said Yichien Cooper. “We see how the story unfolded in China, and we kind of understand how dangerous it can be if you don’t have any protection.”

Cooper gathered her team of helpers less than a week ago. In that time, they’ve delivered over 100 masks to local schools, neighbors and nurses.

“We understand that there’s a limit of resources so that was my initial idea,” said Yichien Cooper. “Maybe I tried to distract myself with the stress, and then I needed to do something creative and functional at the same time.”

Kaixan, one of the teens involved, has taken a few sewing classes and helped teach her mom, Maoyi Huang. Cooper’s daughter, Katherine, had only taken one class before taking on the task. Eva Elwell took just one sewing class in Taiwan before she moved to the United States years ago.

“Not everyone has a sewing machine, but they go to buy fabric, they help to cut and they try and minimize work for the sewers,” said Cooper.

The women use their own supplies or donated supplies. Depending on their previous skill level, making a mask can take hours.

“You need to cut and sew and iron,” said Elwell. “So it takes time.”

The masks are made of cloth and feature a pouch. You can slide a filter into the pouch, and the filter can be removed if you want to replace it or wash the mask.

When it comes to distribution, Cooper has been focusing on the local schools. When they’re not making the masks, Cooper delivers them to the staff handing out lunches.

“They don’t have protection.”

The ladies plan to continue as long as there is a need.

“This is very new concept for everybody, but I do think it’s important to know how to protect yourself and others,” she said.