Mask-makers buffer the medical community's tight supplies 

Band tees into PPE

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Rick Burick loaded roughly 200 T-shirts adorned with hardcore and metal band designs into garbage bags early last week, expecting to never see them intact again. A devotee to all things punk, Burick wasn't giving up his lifelong passion by sending these pieces of apparel to be chopped up. Instead, he's sending them to his mother, who will turn them into masks for South Carolinians trying to stay safe during the pandemic.

With some medical equipment in short supply around the nation, mask makers have sprung up in the area to help alleviate some of the strain placed on Lowcountry health care facilities.

Caroline Baker, a fashion design teacher at Charleston County School of the Arts, started Sew. Some. Good. to provide homemade medical masks for health care professionals. Alongside Mackie Moore, Jessica Boylston, and a slew of sewing experts, Baker donates masks to any medical establishment that asks. "When I put this form out," she says, "what I found out is that there are literally just thousands of doctors and nurses in Charleston and the surrounding area that already don't have any coverage or any masks."

Sew. Some. Good. has provided well over 2,000 masks and was filling orders for another 2,000 when we spoke last week. According to Baker, the group has over 1,000 members and has received 63 sets of donated masks, some from her students. "We're just going to keep sewing until we get to the end of the virus or to the end of the need," she says.

Taking a slightly different approach, Burick is selling his unique masks and donating proceeds (and then some, he says) to The Sparrow, a popular venue for punk bands in North Charleston. "This is hurting a lot of people and the Sparrow's done so much for me. I just want to give back," he says.

One of the more technologically advanced ways of producing masks comes from perhaps an unlikely source: a historic preservationist. College of Charleston professor Grant Gilmore has also been mobilizing the community to make masks using 3D printers for the Medical University of South Carolina.

These masks are more protective than traditional surgical masks and include a filtration system. It takes between seven and eight hours to create one mask, according to Gilmore.

Thankfully he's not alone. The educator and director of the school's historic preservation program is joined by several other professors and architecture firms from the area. The increased support for the project has made Gilmore believe that he will far exceed his original goal of 50 masks. Better yet, Gilmore's team is just one of the groups producing 3D-printed masks in Charleston.

"It takes a long time to print one mask, but you never know if that one mask might be saving someone's life," Gilmore says.

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