York City fashion designer turns to mask making amid shortage

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

A York City businesswoman has turned her fashion shop into a face mask factory as demand for the medical equipment has skyrocketed since cases of COVID-19 first began appearing in the United States.

"I'm breathing and eating all things face masks," said Victoria Kageni-Woodard, the owner of Gusa by Victoria, who is now making masks.

Kageni-Woodard, who first started producing masks Friday, said she has already made 300 masks and has started donating to health care workers, specifically to friends in Florida who work in hospice care. 

Her venture is still new and she is working to figure out where to donate, she said.

Rising demand, panic buying, hoarding and misuse of personal protective equipment — such as N95 respirators, which filter out about 95% of airborne particles — is putting people at risk from the coronavirus and other infectious diseases, said the World Health Organization in early March.

Gusa by Victoria owner Victoria Kageni-Woodard, sews face masks at her York City shop Tuesday, March 24, 2020. She and her three children were making the masks which are being distributed locally and abroad due to a shortage amid the Covid-19 virus pandemic. She said she expects to make 100 per day. Bill Kalina photo

Because of these shortages, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines last week allowing for health care professionals to use surgical masks, scarves and bandannas as acceptable alternatives.

"When we found out that folks in health care are having to reuse and repurpose their personal equipment, it just made me sick that these are the people charged with taking care of others but the armor they need, they're struggling to find," Kageni-Woodard said.

Similar mask-making movements have cropped up throughout the country amid the spread of the coronavirus. 

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Though at first Kageni-Woodard had concerns about finding materials that would serve as proper medical protection, she concluded air conditioner filters are a sufficient substitute for the N95 respirator masks that are used in health care facilities. 

A Cumberland County resident, Sean Quinlan, and Kageni-Woodard worked together to collect air filters and fabrics she could use to mass produce masks. 

Though she has donated masks to those in need, Kageni-Woodard is also selling face masks for $10, with a portion of proceeds going to charity organizations such as the YMCA and YWCA.

"Never in a million years did I think sewing would bring us where we are," she said. 

With the help of three of her children, Abigail Wilson-Kageni, 17; Paige, 15; and Noah, 14, who are tasked with cutting fabric, Kageni-Woodard sews each mask by hand. A piece of filter goes in the middle and is surrounded by 100% cotton. 

She said she's able to make 30 masks per hour. 

"It's a little tasking, and it may look like a simple mask, but it takes some work," Kageni-Woodard said. "It helps much better than wrapping a bandanna around their face."

Before she was making masks, Kageni-Woodard was running Gusa by Victoria, a women's clothing shop she opened in 2016 located at 7 E. Market St. in York City.

Her shop is closed for now along with all "non-life-sustaining" businesses in the state by order of Gov. Tom Wolf.

"I'm a mother of four, and I'm thinking to myself, if my child got sick I want to be comfortable knowing the doctors and nurses are taking care of my children while they are properly protected," Kageni-Woodard said. "It's just a frightening thought to be so vulnerable. Whatever we can do to help each other is where it's at right now."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.