PASADENA, Calif. —The Auntie Sewing Squad has been hard at work since last March when a shortage of masks for health care workers prompted them to organize. Candice Kim first joined at the start out of a need to protect marginalized communities.

Recently, she sewed her 500th mask.

“When I make a mask to donate to someone else, the minimum that I do is two layers,” said Kim. “Many of our volunteers are now adding in an extra layer, but two layers is the minimum they’re saying now.”

What You Need To Know

  • The Auntie Sewing Squad was founded by performance artist Kristina Wong and currently has over 800 participating members

  • Since March 2020, the Auntie Sewing Squad has donated over 250,000 masks

  • The Auntie Sewing Squad donates masks to essential health care workers, First Nations, farmworkers, the incarcerated and migrants seeking asylum

  • The CDC estimates combining a surgical mask with a cloth mask could reduce a wearer’s exposure by over 90%

The messaging around masks has been constantly evolving as health care leaders learn more and more about COVID-19. Recently, the CDC issued new guidelines for wearing masks and now recommends wearing two when out in public. More importantly, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of the L.A\. County Department of Public Health says it’s more about the fit.

“One of the best ways or most effective ways to do that double-masking is to put on that surgical mask, that paper mask, first,” explained Dr. Ferrer. “And then because oftentimes there’s some gapping on that to put over that your tight-fitting cloth face covering.”

When not sewing masks, Kim works as a project director for the Moving Forward Network assessing exposure and risk from freight transportation and has a Master of Public Health from the Keck School of Medicine. Understanding the risk of exposure, she’s been double-masking since before the new guidelines.

“The aunties did get together to discuss what kind of designs could best support that new recommendation and from the start, we focused on masks that fit well because we believe that if a mask fits well, then people will wear it,” said Kim.

There’s one more simple step both the CDC and Kim recommend.

“The simple thing anyone can do to improve the fit is tie a knot,” demonstrated Kim by tying the loops that go around the ear. “And then gather in the extra material so there is a smaller gap on the side.”

Based on experiments that measure the filtration efficiencies of various cloth masks and surgical masks, the CDC estimates that combining the two could reduce a wearer’s exposure by over 90%.

“It’s more than just about my own health. It’s about 'how do we as a community rise above this public health crisis?'" said Kim. “It’s not going to happen unless we all take this caring act for each other, right. You know, it’s not one person. It’s everyone acting together that is going to get us where we need to go.”