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Medical Workers Get Masks from Vietnamese Volunteers

2020-4-26

Vietnamese women in and around Seattle are making face masks for health care workers who face a shortage of protective equipment in Washington state.

Katie Nguyen is a tailor from Spanaway, Washington. She decided to start sewing masks when state officials ordered nonessential businesses like hers to close. The order was part of the public health effort to contain the new coronavirus.

Phung Vo, left, with two co-workers at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, Washington. (Photo courtesy Phung Vo)
Phung Vo, left, with two co-workers at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, Washington. (Photo courtesy Phung Vo)

Now, with the help of a few volunteers, Nguyen has made thousands of masks.

Phung Vo works in the pharmacy at EvergreenHealth Medical Center in Kirkland, Washington. He received about 200 masks directly from one of the volunteers, Loan Ngo, a few days ago.

Vo estimates he and his co-workers use about 20 masks a day.

“I showed the masks to my supervisor who said ‘Perfect,’” he told VOA Vietnamese. Vo added he and others at the pharmacy are required to wear masks and are “so grateful for the cloth mask donation. Our Evergreen hospital is the most crowded with COVID-19 patients in the state."

Washington has suffered more than most states from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. The first COVID-19 case in the United States was confirmed there on January 21. The patient had recently returned from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the virus was first identified last year.

The first U.S. COVID-19 death took place in Kirkland, a city near Seattle. One day later, Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency.

The virus spread at a speed that would surprise many people. As the crisis grew, Katie Nguyen and her friends cut pieces of cotton cloth and sewed the pieces into face masks.

“We have answered pleas from hospitals, doctors and nurses who are so desperate for personal protective equipment amid the coronavirus pandemic,” Nguyen told VOA’s Vietnamese language service.

She turned the workshop in her home into a mask-making center that followed health guidelines for social distancing. Members of the Vietnamese community dropped off supplies, and friends in Vietnam sent fabric. Volunteers who did not know how to sew “came here to learn and later they did it on their own at home,” Nguyen said.

Late in March, she told the volunteers to stop working in her home because of Washington’s stay-at-home order. The volunteers continued sewing and making masks, but from their own homes.

Loan Ngo and An Lam, both from Seattle, live together and continued to sew together. “We’re still heathy, we need to do something,” said Ngo. “A mask is still better than nothing, right? And our doctors, nurses and health care workers are on the front lines of the battle.”

“I delivered masks to Valley Medical Center in Renton,” Ngo told VOA. “Sitting in my car with masks on my hands, I cried when I saw medical workers and … ambulances.” She said these workers are the most likely to get infected.

Two weeks ago, Lam set up a Facebook page so Vietnamese women could share information about where to get fabric that can be used for hospital masks. Now Vietnamese volunteers in California, Texas, Oregon and Georgia are sewing masks.

“My neighbor and I have made over 200 masks so far,” said Lam, who came to the United States from the Mekong Delta area.

“I feel happier to know that health care workers wear my masks,” Lam told VOA while operating her sewing machine.

Nguyen said that she and her group have made and donated more than 10,000 face masks.

She added that as long as the supplies keep coming, the group will keep sewing.

“We may stop when hospitals in the region receive enough masks from [the] federal government’s medical supplies,” she said.

I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.

Mario Ritter Jr. adapted this VOA News story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tailor – n. a person who makes and adjusts clothing for people

sewing – n. to use a needle and thread to make or repair fabric such as clothes

nonessential adj. not necessary

pharmacy – n. a place in a hospital or a store where drugs and medicines are prepared and given out

grateful – adj. feeling or showing thanks, being thankful

fabric – n. a material that is woven or knitted, cloth is an example

desperate – n. having a strong need or desire for something

ambulance – n. A vehicle equipped for taking sick or injured people to and from the hospital