Cloth Masks For The DTES: An FAQ
Close Icon

Cloth Masks For The DTES: An FAQ

by Aisle Team
Cloth Masks For The DTES: An FAQ

Photo credit: Jesse Winter

The COVID-19 crisis has hit everyone very hard, some more than others. We’ve all had to adjust to the realities and responsibilities of self-quarantine, self-isolation and staying or working from home. But what if you do not have the privilege of doing this safely and securely? 

The Downtown East Side (“DTES”) is Vancouver’s lowest-income and most vulnerable neighbourhood that - due to a host of social inequities and injustices - is home to a disproportionate number of marginalized people experiencing, among other things, mental illness, homelessness and substance addiction. With supplies running low, face masks are desperately needed by front line social service workers who are supporting these individuals in accessing shelter, food and healthcare.

In this time of crisis, Aisle has decided to deploy its manufacturing resources to support our community’s most vulnerable population with PPE (personal protective equipment). We are calling on our community to join us in funding the manufacture of fabric masks. While we are able to donate fabric for this purpose, as a small business hard-hit by the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, we lack sufficient resources to pay our production partners to make the masks.

The masks will be distributed to organizations represented by DTES Response including: DTES SRO Collaboration (SRO-C), Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS), Friends of CCAP (Carnegie Community Action Project), and Overdose Prevention Society (OPS)

Please join us in supporting this urgent need by donating HERE

Suzanne and Madeleine


Q: Why did you decide to make cloth masks?

Aisle received its first request for cloth masks on March 16, 2020 from Marnie Goldenberg, Director of Directions Youth Services. We provided Directions with 150 masks as a pilot project and are currently receiving user feedback as we move ahead with expanding our production to meet the needs of other groups serving marginalized communities at this time.

Q. Why are fabric masks needed at this time in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side?

In short, because this is a true healthcare emergency. 

Kathy Shimizu, a DTES Response Coordinator says, “I think the mask shortage is going to be an issue for some time to come. These new non-medical masks can reduce the spread of virus from infected people and while a mask won’t guarantee that you don’t get or spread COVID-19, it definitely lowers the risk. For DTES frontline workers, it could make a big difference, especially when combined with a face shield (which are also being donated!). And use of washable masks by the general public could help alleviate the shortage of medical grade masks for hospital staff and first responders.”

Q. What are medical personnel saying about the use of cloth masks? 

"Masks are not a magic bullet against coronavirus… but if everybody wears face masks, it probably can help, along with all the other measures (like hand washing and social distancing), to reduce transmission.”

— Benjamin Cowling, Epidemiology Professor, University of Hong Kong

 “Cloth masks can be very helpful in preventing the spread of COVID-19. Similar to paper surgical masks, cloth masks help prevent the transmission of infectious droplets from the patient to the HCP (health care provider), especially if used in conjunction with eye protection and gloves (as recommended by the CDC). Masks can also prevent potentially infectious droplets from entering the air nearby. Though there is no data yet to support this, cloth masks should work similarly to paper surgical masks as they both act as a non-sterile physical barrier to person to person droplet transmission. 

Due to the reusable nature of cloth masks, thorough washing after daily wear is an important component of infectious disease transmission reduction. The mask does not need to be sterilized but should be cleaned with a disinfecting product such as soap and water. Cloth masks could be an important addition to existing medical equipment to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Because both a surgical and cloth mask help prevent potentially infectious droplets from a cough or sneeze from entering the air nearby, those with a persistent cough should wear a mask when around others. Cloth masks may be more comfortable in the long term and may lead to greater adherence by those possibly infected individuals.” 

— Dr. Karen E. Harris, MD, MPH, Days for Girls International Board Chair, Program Director for the OB/GYN Residency, UCF/HCA Consortium - Gainesville FL

Q. Are fabric masks comparable in terms of performance to surgical masks? 

No. Like all cloth masks currently being made to support COVID-19, they are solely intended to provide some form of barrier. Proper surgical and N95 masks are in short supply. We cannot assure anyone of the effectiveness of a cloth mask for any purpose. We are extremely conscious of this and have advised our partners, in writing, to ensure they understand the limitations of these masks and any user must be advised that they may use them at their own risk.

Q. Where can I learn more about the current research about the efficacy of fabric masks?

There is a growing number of resources available; we have collected them in this document.

Q. How are the masks being made and what measures and protocols have been implemented to ensure safety in manufacturing?

The masks are being made in East Vancouver by our longtime manufacturing partners. Our team has implemented a number of stringent safety procedures to ensure that team members and production partners are safe during the manufacturing process, as well as ensuring that the masks are made under safe working conditions. These measures include limits to the number of people in any work area, physical distancing of workers, the use of masks and gloves, frequency and length of time of handwashing and sanitizing the workplace regularly.



Q. What measures are in place to ensure correct use of the masks?

Each mask comes with a set of written instructions on their correct use and care, including washing, that has been reviewed by a medical doctor.

Q. Can I buy some of these fabric masks for my personal use?

No, we are only making these masks for DTES Response at this time.

Q. I represent a social service agency in the DTES: can you supply us with fabric masks as well?

Our ability to support other agencies is dependent on our production capacity and ability to fundraise. We encourage you to directly reach out to DTES Response to request to participate:

Q. I am making fabric masks at home. Can I send them to you? 

Not at this time. Our warehouse is closed for safety reasons and our team is focused on making a high volume of masks with our local manufacturing partners. If you wish to make fabric masks, we encourage you to start your own group or look within your community to find where they may be needed. There are numerous Facebook groups who are organizing similar efforts. Many thanks and good luck!

Q: Will you be making other PPE like gowns, bed linens and supplying them to other organizations who are also in short supply, such as hospitals?

We are prepared to be of service to other organizations if required. We also expect the coordinated efforts of DTES Response to only grow, and we will do our best to meet this demand with the resources we have available.

Related Articles