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Volunteers turn spare AIDS Memorial Quilt fabric into coronavirus masks

by Oscar Lopez | @oscarlopezgib | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 14 April 2020 18:22 GMT

Gert McMullin sews face masks in San Leandro, United States, April 3, 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Handout by Mike Smith, AIDS Memorial

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The United States has the world's highest number of COVID-19 deaths and masks are in short supply

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By Oscar Lopez

MEXICO CITY, April 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An army of volunteers in California is using extra fabric from the AIDS Memorial Quilt to make face masks for U.S. homeless people and frontline workers during the new coronavirus crisis.

With about 50,000 panels dedicated to some 100,000 people who have died from AIDS, the quilt is the world's largest ongoing piece of community folk art and one of the most famous symbols of the AIDS pandemic, according to its custodians.

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"Sewing is how I chose to memorialise my friends I've lost to AIDS," said Gert McMullin, who has been sewing as a volunteer since the giant tapestry was conceived by a gay rights activist in 1987, in a statement.

"I just can't sit idly by during this new crisis."

The United States has recorded more fatalities from COVID-19, the severe respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, than any other country, with 24,000 deaths as of Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally.

Michael Bongiorni passes face masks to Renne Tripp in San Francisco, United States. April 6, 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Handout by Mike Smith, AIDS Memorial

Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks are so severe in the United States that health workers treating contagious patients have appealed for help on social media under the hashtag #GetMePPE.

The quilt was set to go on display in San Francisco this month but the exhibition was postponed when coronavirus lockdown rules were put in place and volunteers decided to turn their skills to making masks instead.

The washable masks are made from fabric that would have been used to sew new patches of the quilt together and will be used by clients and staff of Bay Area Community Services (BACS), a local non-profit that provides housing to homeless people.

Some 400 masks have been sewn already, with volunteers vowing to sew hundreds more.

"Sewing masks for BACS helps me have hope," McMullin said. "It will make a difference."

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(Reporting by Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib; editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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