One of the most frustrating aspects of fighting COVID-19 in the United States is the nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Gloves, gowns, surgical caps, and especially face masks are essential for healthcare workers on the front lines of the crisis, but there’s simply not enough to go around. And now that experts say the general public could also stand to benefit from masks, the problem is likely to grow — unless we can ramp up domestic production of these items ASAP.

South Sea Outdoor Living & Oasis Home employees hard at work making DIY face masks to help the American people fight off COVID-19.

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North Carolina’s High Point-based furniture and bedding industry is ready to do just that. But first, they have to wait for approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Food and Drug Administration. Led by Tim Dolan of TDI Worldwide, the effort has already earned the support of state senators and congressional representatives looking to fast-track approval of the facilities and materials.

President Trump recently issued an order of more than 600 million masks to be produced by 3M, Honeywell International, and Hanes Brands, but they, too, are mired in red tape.

“Our concern is that these masks might not be made and distributed fast enough to get to the front line groups and individuals who need them most — our first responders and caregivers — and we want to help accelerate the production if possible because our industry might have the capabilities to do it,” says Dolan.

One of the companies aiming to help is South Sea Outdoor Living & Oasis Home, which typically makes outdoor patio furniture. They’ll be sewing masks using tightly woven, 100-percent cotton fabrics. While they don’t possess the protective capability of N95 masks or surgical masks, they’ll still be double-layered with a built-in pocket for disposable masks or filters. These masks will be priced at $4 each with a minimum order of 20, and the company expects to be able to produce hundreds per day.

A finished DIY face mask from the South Sea Outdoor Living & Oasis Home HQ.

Other companies who have expressed interest in helping include Ashley Furniture, Serta Simmons Bedding, Fusion Furniture, Corinthian, Creative Ticking, and more.

“We have commitments from companies ready and waiting to assess the specifications and requirements of these masks and, if approved, they are willing to use their domestic and international resources and contacts to produce them and get them out into the medical system,” Dolan says. “There is a maze of mandatory processes and approvals to get through, and we are very grateful to have the support from government officials across multiple states to help us.”

“We encourage and welcome any additional support within our industry to further strengthen our efforts. These are challenging times for all Americans. The furniture and bedding industries and their suppliers want to do our part, however we can, to help support our first responders and medical staff in this great country.”

Throughout February and most of March, experts like the Centers for Disease Control downplayed the potential for masks to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus among the public. Once it was clear that a shortage was imminent, any remaining masks needed to be directed to healthcare workers first. But that guidance is now under review, especially since it’s clear that asymptomatic spread is a factor. Masks can also help protect against spread of the disease through droplets or vapor (breath).

In response, many people have begun making their own DIY face masks. There’s little research about the effectiveness of homemade masks, and they certainly can’t replace social distancing. But when used alongside other safety measures, they certainly won’t cause any harm. JOANN Fabrics has even shared a couple video tutorials if you’d like to give it a shot.