A few local designers have pivoted to create face masks for local health care workers. Photo courtesy of Magpies & Peacocks

The coronavirus is sweeping the globe and creating new challenges. Notably, companies are not able to keep up with the demand for the N95 masks needed to keep the health care workers safe. Now, Houston's fashion industry is stepping up.

Megan Eddings, founder of Accel Lifestyle, says an article she read about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advising health care professionals to wear homemade masks or bandanas due to the shortage of the N95 masks inspired her. She was compelled to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic locally and nationwide.

"Accel's Prema fabric was created to prevent the growth of bacteria," Eddings tells CultureMap. "The fabric can be washed up to 100 times and it will still be 99.99-percent anti-bacteria."

Eddings says it dawned on her that she has over 500 shirts made, here in Houston, that could easily be recreated into masks. Her supply chain team consists of 20 sewers and she notes that number can quickly double.

"We have enough supplies here to make 9,000 masks and I have 2,800 yards of fabric sitting at my factory in California," she says. "That's enough fabric to make more than 100,000 masks."

Eddings and her team also tell CultureMap that 47,000 yards of elastic is en route to the Bayou City this week.

"I knew this was serious when the president of MD Anderson responded to my Saturday morning email within three minutes of sending," she says. "He's interested, and they want the infection control team to analyze the fabric."

Other local hospitals interested in Accel Lifestyle's masks are Methodist, Texas Children's, Baylor, and Memorial Hermann. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City has also shown interest as well as Yale's New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut.

Accel's masks are made out of their specialty anti-bacteria fabric. Photo courtesy of Accel

When Chloe Dao made the decision to temporarily close her Rice Village boutique last Tuesday, offering shopping requests by appointment only, she posted a video to her Instagram account the following day about the emotional roller coaster she's been on surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the video, Dao says she wanted to play a role in helping her community by creating a pattern and hand sewing 100 washable face masks with pockets. She noted in the caption that the pocket allows for extra filtration but that because it's a fabric mask, it does not stop the spread of the virus. Dao also recommends washing the mask before wearing it.

With production underway since her initial 100 masks, available in small/medium and medium/large, Dao and her team have produced close to 1,000 masks for Houstonians who reached out via social media.

"The requests are overwhelming," a representative for the label tells CultureMap. "We're now shifting our focus to help those on the front line of the coronavirus outbreak; the doctors, nurses, family members of doctors and nurses."

For those who would like to donate to Dao's efforts to continue producing these washable masks, click here.

Houston-based, internationally recognized nonprofit design house, Magpies & Peacocks, and Inclán Studio, a local women's ready-to-wear fashion label, are upcycling together to create nonwoven polypropylene masks, which will be distributed to Houston-area hospitals.

Founder and CEO, Sarah-Jayne Smith and vice president and director of communications/PR, Ahshia Berry, tells CultureMap that partnering together was never a question for either of our brands but more "how can we pull our resources together and help during these trying times."

Clarence Lee, a designer at Inclán Studio, tells CultureMap he searched the studio to find elastic cording that didn't get used in past collections.

"Waste as a resource and upcycling material for good use has never been more important than it is right now," Magpies & Peacocks writes on an Instagram post.

Houston Arts Alliance and Visit Houston donated excess promotional products and now, are deconstructed to reuse the material for these masks.

"It's actually a spun plastic, not a fabric, so it works effectively as a filter, and is more moisture resistant," Magpies & Peacocks tells CultureMap. "It's more compliant and efficient for the current exposure to the service industry in the midst of the crisis."

Lee, who is also a lead designer for Magpies & Peacocks, and serves as an executive board member for the nation's exclusive nonprofit design house, tells CultureMap that for them, it simply boils down to help in any capacity, especially after seeing what's happening across the country with the shortage of supplies.

He notes that they may not have all the supplies, but they do have the capability and time to sew to help those that are on the frontline, fighting and sacrificing everything they have.

"[Houston] is our home, and we all have a part to play in helping fight this," he says. "The [fashion] industry has a major role, and now is definitely the time to show how valuable it can be."

Magpies & Peacocks and Inclán Studio aim to produce 500-600 masks, and hopefully more, should they come across more materials, Lee tells CultureMap. Seven volunteers are helping to sew these nonwoven polypropylene masks.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston Methodist tech hub focuses on telemedicine training amid COVID-19 outbreak

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Houston Methodist's recently opened its new Center for Innovation's Technology Hub in January, and the new wing has already been challenged by a global pandemic — one that's validating a real need for telemedicine.

The 3,500-square-foot tech testing ground was renovated from an 18-room patient wing and showcases new digital health technologies like virtual reality, ambient listening, wearables, voice control, and more. The hub was focused on giving tours to medical professionals and executives to get them excited about health tech, but in the middle of March, Josh Sol, administrative director of Innovation and Ambulatory Clinical Systems at Houston Methodist, says they saw a greater need for the space.

"We turned the technology hub into a training center where physicians could come on site and learn telemedicine," Sol says. "We had some foresight from our leadership who thought that telemedicine was going to be heavily utilized in order to protect our patients who might go into isolation based on the outbreak."

The hub has trained over 500 physicians — both onsite and digitally. Sol says that at the start of March, there were 66 providers offering virtual care, and by March 25, there were over 900 providers operating virtually. On March 12, Houston Methodist had 167 virtual visits, Sol says, and on March 25, they had 2,421. This new 2,000-plus number is now the daily average.

"Telemedicine is here to stay now with the rapid adoption that just happened," Sol says. "The landscape will change tremendously."

Another way new technology has affected doctors' day-to-day work has been through tele-rounding — especially when it comes to interacting with patients with COVID-19.

"We are putting iPads in those rooms with Vidyo as the video application, and our physicians can tele-visit into that room," Sol says.

It's all hands on deck for the tech hub so that physicians who need support have someone to turn to. Sol says the hub used to have a two-person support team and now there are eight people in that role.

Sol says the iPads are a key technology for tele-rounding and patient care — and they are working with Apple directly to secure inventory. But other tech tools, like an artificial intelligence-backed phone system, an online symptom checker, and chatbots are key to engaging with patients.

"We're looking at how we can get our patients in the right place at the right time," Sol says. "It's very confusing right now. We're hoping we can streamline that for our patients."

The hub was designed so that in case of emergency, the display hospital rooms could be transitioned to patient care rooms. Sol says that would be a call made by Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer of Houston Methodist Hospital.

Documentary featuring Houston Nobel Prize winner to air on PBS

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Not all heroes wear capes. In fact, our current coronavirus heroes are donning face masks as they save lives. One local health care hero has a different disease as his enemy, and you'll soon be able to stream his story.

Dr. James "Jim" Allison won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in battling cancer by treating the immune system — rather than the tumor. Allison, who is the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center, has quietly and often, singularly, waged war with cancer utilizing this unique approach.

The soft-spoken trailblazer is the subject of an award-winning documentary, Jim Allison: Breakthrough, which will air on PBS and its streaming channels on Monday, April 27 at 9 pm (check local listings for channel information). Lauded as "the most cheering film of the year" by the Washington Post, the film follows Allison's personal journey to defeat cancer, inspired and driven by the disease killed his mother.

Breakthrough is narrated by Woody Harrelson and features music by Willie Nelson, adding a distinct hint of Texana. (The film was a star at 2019's South by Southwest film festival.) The documentary charts Alice, Texas native as he enrolls at the University of Texas, Austin and ultimately, cultivates an interest in T cells and the immune system — and begins to frequent Austin's legendary music scene. Fascinated by the immune system's power to protect the body from disease, Allison's research soon focuses on how it can be used to treat cancer.

Viewers will find Allison charming, humble, and entertaining: the venerable doctor is also an accomplished blues harmonica player. Director Bill Haney weaves Allison's personal story with the medical case of Sharon Belvin, a patient diagnosed with melanoma in 2004 who soon enrolled in Allison's clinical trials. Belvin has since been entirely cancer-free, according to press materials.

"We are facing a global health challenge that knows no boundaries or race or religion, and we are all relying on gifted and passionate scientists and healthcare workers to contain and ultimately beat this thing," said Haney, in a statement. "Jim Allison and the unrelenting scientists like him are my heroes – and I'll bet they become yours!"

Jim Allison: Breakthrough premieres on Independent Lens at 9 pm Monday, April 27, on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.