CSS East Making Face Mask Project

Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)

(Updated April 29th, 2020)

How do you make the masks?

Our mask is not the N95 mask. Ours falls into the category of surgical mask or “procedural mask”, designed to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter from spreading.

If you search on YouTube, there are a half-dozen video instructions on how to make masks that are put up by private individuals or hospitals, themselves. A few representative samples are:

  1. Instructional video for sewing the Olson mask, by UnityPoint Health – Cedar Rapids, Iowa

  1. How to make a healthcare mask with special filter pocket, by North Memorial Health Hospital which teaches you how to make a cloth healthcare mask with a special filter pocket to help protect healthcare workers and patients.
  2. How to sew your own fabric mask (Washington Post)

There are dozens more video instructions on YouTube.

However, CSS East design is slightly different. Dr. Quốc Dũng Trần, MD and chair of the Anesthesiology department at Georgetown Medstar Hospital in DC is our project adviser.

We have tested several prototypes and our masks are designed according to Dr. Trần's specification. They are a breathable, washable, hygienic, medical-type face mask. They have an inserted aluminum foil nose bridge to help the wearer be more comfortable. We test the design by washing it several times to make sure they can be reused.

Hand wash with detergent and air dry is recommended. Do not put in the microwave.

Our design comes in 2 sizes (Large, Medium), and we plan to provide at least 2, hopefully 4 or 5, per health worker.

What is the mask made out of?

We make 2 types of masks.

The first type is for health care workers. They need higher quality protection. So we use Halyard H600, which is from the sterile wrapping that is normally used to wrap or surround surgical instrument trays before they pass through gas sterilization or an autoclave. These types of materials have been used by the University of Florida Health anesthesiology department to make masks. They’ve found that the material can block 99.9% of the particulates.

The second type of masks is for the general public. They don’t need elastic band, nose bridge and may wear it only occasionally. In this case, we recommend high quality high thread count 100% cotton or microfiber. Our mask is at least 2 or 3 ply to be safe. We only use brand new cotton materials to make masks. We do NOT use used materials.

As we gain experience, we may experiment with different types of materials. The elastic band is ¼” to make wearing it more comfortable and adjustable.

The following chart shows the possible protective effects of different types of materials, as compared to the common surgical mask.

This research paper by Stanford Medicine has good info on various mask design and materials:

https://stanfordmedicine.app.box.com/v/covid19-PPE-1-1?fbclid=IwAR0qZqGKh3nPbOOLJRJQgiL328d3yMDjNharHCMnB11dWVZSxp8qnSp2INI

Who are the masks for?

CSS East has been making them for health care workers (people serving food to patients, cleaning patient's room, volunteers, receptionists, etc.). Dr. Tran said even doctors are told they have to reuse their masks and make it last for up to a week, whereas they used to use it once per patient visit. Now, they have to use the same mask all day long (this is well documented in many news articles). 

If that's what doctors get, how many masks do you think the rest of the health care workers get? (That's why we need to make sure the mask is reusable after washing, and try to provide each person 2-5 masks so they can change). Once they get sick, who's going to take care of the sick, regardless of how many masks, ventilators, ICUs, etc.?

If I want to make masks and donate in my local community, where do I start?

There are a dozen web sites supported by hospitals and non-profit organizations to link the mask donors and the recipients.

The MaskForHeroes organization matches the donors to the recipients (they have instructions on how to make masks on their website). There is a long list of hospitals which want the masks listed on this website. They tend to ask for manufacturing original masks only however.


The U.C. Berkeley School of Public Health has also compiled a list of hospitals by state that are accepting homemade masks, including instructions for dropping them off.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/12a5YO0Z9RpHZk9Zkzl4NOj9CbjzhFfoKjPLFFC-21LU/preview?fbclid=IwAR285Vs3FqP97pmRWYW-4HIKvtxxy9hPMDVztTQjV_i40Ff2ClGIqphsdj8

The Projectn95 is a national clearinghouse to connect healthcare providers with critical equipment.

The MaskMatch.com is a clearing house for sending your masks to healthcare workers without leaving your house. They can match the need for homemade masks as well.

I can’t find the elastic band to buy. What can I do?

We haven’t tried this option, but some people posted on Facebook that they have good results with nylon band. Some people even used bungy cord. Let us know what you find.

Other than that, some people have tried to stitch the elastic band with cloth band to make it longer and save on the elastic band. Some people also tried to buy .5 or 1 inch wide band and cut it into multiple thinner strips lengthwise. This may or may not work, depending on whether the edge of the thinner strips get unraveled when cut or not.

Who are we making these masks for?  (Who will be using these masks)?

After Dr. Tran's hospital, very soon, our organization wants to branch out and support health care and service providers at local hospices, senior centers, etc. These workers serve a very vulnerable population. At least hospitals have more money and get more attention. These workers are on their own and desperate.


How would we be distributing or sending these masks?

In the case of CSS East, we work through Dr. Tran and our local contacts at health service provider institutions. Hospital and hospices cannot accept our donation because of liability. But Dr. Tran knows the workers and they know him, so they are very happy to get our masks.

So, it's not easy. We have to navigate. We cannot give directly to the institution. We have to have contact insiders who can help us. If we don't, even the workers who need these masks may not trust us. Luckily, we have been able to establish relationship with many health care institutions through personal relationship, so they will accept it.

We also partner with the "Hope For Tomorrow" organization, which will connect us with needy institutions.

It should be noted that our target is not ICU doctors. Our target are nurse assistants, receptionists, custodians, etc, people who feed, bathe, care and comfort the patients who are being isolated, and their own family cannot visit.

It should be noted that our target is not ICU doctors. Our target are nurse assistants, receptionists, custodians, etc, people who feed, bathe, care and comfort the patients who are being isolated, and their own family cannot visit.

Our area (Northern VA, DC, Maryland) has not gotten to crisis stage yet. And we pray it’ll never get there. But it may, based on the exponential growth. Once that happens, every little bit helps.

This article by Tomas Pueyo, whose Medium post “Coronavirus: Why You Should Act Now” has become one of the defining explainers on the internet about the coronavirus outbreak was written 2 weeks ago, read 40M times and translated into 30 languages (including Vietnamese). It illustrates how an exponential growth curve works. It started out very slowly, and is not noticeable. But by the time it ramps up, it's too late!  

I recommend reading the article.

Where do you distribute these masks?

Start with Georgetown Medstar, branch out to other hospitals in DC, Virginia, and Maryland in the Washington metropolitan area. We are also reaching out to hospices, nursing homes, etc.

We benefited from a partnership and coordination with “Hope for Tomorrow” which will be advising and assisting us on locating needy institutions.

How do you ensure sterilization of the mask?

No matter what we try, we cannot. We are not a sterilized production facility. We recommend that the mask be washed by the user before and in-between re-use. Most hospitals have autoclave sterilization equipment and the materials we use are routinely sterilized by that process.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, for example, stated on their web site “Donated cloth masks are thoroughly laundered and sanitized before being distributed”.

What about liability?

We include a Liability Waiver in our package. We explicitly state that we make no claim as to the effectiveness of the mask as health protection equipment, or for any purpose. The mask is a free gift, not for sale. Acceptance of the gift means the recipient releases us from liability. We hope that works :-)

I know how to sew, can I help?

Right now (April 1, 2020) our production is limited by the availability of elastic bands. We have enough seamstresses. Please send email to: chinhtinbui@gmail.com and let us know you can help, and we will contact you when the next batch of supplies arrives, which are expected in a week to 10 days.

We are swamped with daily work, so please do NOT contact us via phone.

Can I help make the cotton mask?

Yes, absolutely. There is lots of demand for high quality cotton masks for both service providers and elderly patients at hospices, retirement homes and assisted living centers.

The CDC has adjusted its position to recommend the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.  

Cotton masks are much easier to make, may not need an elastic band, and have a lot less stringent requirements. We have volunteers working on contacting every elderly care institution in the local area, and can assist you on distribution and delivery.

Can you help us make these ourselves for our own group?

Certainly, we’ll be happy to share our design and knowhow. We have instructions, samples, etc. Please contact us at chinhtinbui@gmail.com.

What other written instructions can I follow?

There are many different designs and instructions on YouTube, Facebook and other Internet forums. We have not tried them out, but we can list a few here for informational purposes:

  1. How to Sew a Face Mask. A tutorial on how to make your own fabric face mask from common household materials. (New York Times)

  1. It’s Time to Make Your Own Face Mask. Here’s how to do it. (New York Times)

There is also a support group on Facebook called “Relief Crafters of America” with a sub-group where like-minded people get together to make masks, and share tips and experiences.

Are the masks really needed?

While face masks are less than 100% effective against virus transmission, to be effective they have to be a special type of mask and specially fitted to the wearer. It does, however, help protect against aerosolized transmission.

Even hospitals are in short of supplies, so many are recommending reusable face masks for their workers. (They will take it home and wash it). 

CBS News report on hospital making their own masks (CBS News, video on YouTube)

Health care workers are running out of face masks. They’re asking people to donate. (Vox news)

Does the CDC recommend wearing face masks?

Regarding wearing masks, it has long been the recommendation of the CDC that people with no symptoms and no known risk of exposure not wear a mask. Masks are not 100% effective against virus transmission, can convey a false sense of security, and the CDC is concerned (rightly so) about the public rushing out to buy masks and not leaving enough for health care workers. Plus, workers wearing masks may cause patient nervousness in the hospital (What do they know and are not telling me?).

As the pandemic rages on, experts have also questioned the previous CDC guideline. The CDC has finally reconsidered its own recommendation.

Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission

The following are some of the fair and well-written articles on the topic:

C.D.C. Weighs Advising Everyone to Wear a Mask (New York Times)

More Americans Should Probably Wear Masks for Protection (New York Times)

Americans are sewing homemade masks to fight coronavirus (Vox news). DIYers on Facebook have stepped up to create cloth masks and mask covers for health care workers. It’s a rare bit of good news.

Top Chinese officials warn not wearing masks is a serious mistake (Yahoo News)

Wear a Mask. No, Don’t Wear a Mask. Wait: Yes, Wear a Mask (Medium). This article presents both sides of the argument in a fair way.

Masks may not protect you 100% from others, but does have a significant impact on protecting others from you, especially if you happen to be infected. If you are in an elevator with a person who sneezed a lot, would you rather that that person wear a mask?

The worry about masks running out for health care workers is moot, since right now,they are running! Plus, we are not talking about N95 masks. We are talking about homemade masks, which are, at best, equivalent to the Level 2 or Level 3 ASTM standard.

Can I buy the mask that you make?

Unfortunately, no. CSS East is a non-profit organization. We cannot sell things without collecting sale taxes and filing complicated tax returns which we are not equipped to do. We also do not have the ability to ship or track shipments. Finally, our insurance cannot cover the potential liabilities.

Our highest priority right now is to address the needs of the frontline health care workers. The mask designed for health care workers is not best-suited for normal casual use by the rest of us.

However, we do understand the need of the community, especially among the elderly population. We do have a limited number of cotton masks to donate for free to elderly people. Please contact csseast@gmail.com.

Who do you partner with?

CSSEast partners with other local non-profit. Our list of partners is growing daily. In chronological order: