Like the rest of us, Kiya Tomlin, the wife of Coach Mike Tomlin, has been in 'work from home' mode for the past three weeks, doing her part to practice social distancing and protecting her family and others from COVID-19.
But she hasn't been sitting around idle.
While the fashion designer isn't able to go to her Kiya Tomlin Work/Shop studio in Etna, her and her staff are hard at work at home on a new fashion design.
"A couple of weeks ago, before Pittsburgh really had any cases, and it was just becoming a known problem, Rachel Maddow had retweeted something from a hospital system in Evansville, Indiana that said they had a shortage of masks and were asking for all home sewers to jump in because they had a shortage of masks," said Tomlin. "Someone forwarded it to me. I thought I have people that are sitting home I am paying who aren't working, so I reached out to them and asked them if they wanted to do it. They were like yeah, of course.
"I wanted to do it for Pittsburgh and started to reach out to friends to see who had connections to see what we could do with these. I have friends who are in the medical field, they aren't in Pittsburgh anymore, one is a nurse and her husband is a surgeon. They were on vacation and I asked her, and her husband said if they aren't an N95 mask then they almost aren't worth it unless you do something with a filter because it's not going to do anything. I was like darn. But Indiana was asking for people to make them. The CDC was then telling people if you don't have a mask, use a bandana. I was like these are better than a bandana. I said I would make them anyways and send them to where they were needed.
"I then got connected with someone and there wasn't a need at the time, but they were hearing about what was happening in other areas and they said as a just in case scenario, let's prepare. We spent about a week deciding how to make them. We went with the one that was CDC compliant. They are for the hospital support staff. They aren't going to the surgeons and nurses. They are for the auxiliary people, and that frees the higher protection masks for doctors and nurses at higher risk dealing with the patients."
Tomlin gathered all of the fabric she had, as did her staff, and they got to work. She then ordered more in bulk, and even had some donated to her. Before she knew it, they were cranking out 500 masks per week. And as they continue to produce them, they are even redesigning them with an opening at the top for people in insert a filter of their choice.
"It's hard to sit here and watch, and people that you know are risking their lives underprepared to take care of people and we are all worried about getting our hands dirty at the grocery store," said Tomlin. "It's good to be able to support those people, even though I can't do what they do. What I do is in support for them. What I have heard they appreciate it and I am happy to do it.
"There is that sense here in Pittsburgh of helping. It's like a tight knit family. It's like one little click town. That is very different from other areas we have lived in. It's a unique thing Pittsburgh has."
The reaction she has received has been really positive, but the need keeps on growing.
"People are excited we are donating them," said Tomlin, who said the hospitals follow all of the protocol to sterilize them. "My friends who initially said don't bother if they aren't an N95 mask, when they got back from vacation and went back to work realized what was going on and texted me and asked me if they could have masks. I was like wow. Something is better than nothing. That has been what the real shocker is.
"From watching the news, you don't know if you can grasp how much the need is. You hear we need ventilators and personal protective equipment. The news acts like they are stocking up for what is to come. But from the requests I am hearing the shortage is here and we haven't gotten to the surge yet.
"Once it got public that we were making these, we got inquiries from outside of Pittsburgh from medical staffs. The police department stopped by and asked for masks."
And it's not just those in need for their work purposes asking for them. People want to buy them now and that might soon happen.
"The general public is asking about purchasing them for their use," said Tomlin. "Initially we were just donating them, that is what we do. We have such a high demand for people to buy them. We might do something where if you buy six, we can donate six to health care workers. People understand we aren't selling them yet, but still want to know as soon as we sell them.
"I have a feeling we are going to have to wear these and people are going to need them. We are going to have to sell them at some point soon.
"People want to help. And it's great. Pittsburgh definitely has the heart to help."
If you are interested in donating material for the masks, they are looking for 100% cotton quilting fabric. You can contact email@example.com to learn how to donate.