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UH Optometrist Inspired to Make Masks for Those on the Front Lines of Coronavirus

By: Rashda Khan Posted On: 03/26/2020

Making Masks

A Balancing Act of Taking Care of Family, Work, Self and Others

Amid the chaos of the global coronavirus pandemic with self-distancing, business and school shutdowns and “shelter-in-place” announcements, one UH College of Optometry family is working hard to make the best of the situation, by being flexible, sharing responsibilities and helping others.

Moriah Chandler

Moriah Chandler and Eric Ritchey, both assistant professors with the college, are working from home and taking care of their 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

Before COVID-19, the couple spent their days busy at the college. Chandler works at University Eye Institute’s Family Practice, supervising second and third year optometry students. She also serves as an investigator for the bifocal lenses in nearsighted kids (BLINK) study and as a lab instructor in the pediatric lab course for second-year students. Ritchey teaches the second-year students about Ophthalmic Optics, is the director of The Ocular Surface Institute (TOSI) and attends in Contacts Lens clinic.

Now the coronavirus has the whole family under one roof 24/7.

“Working from home can be tough! Getting my son to sit and do all of the distance learning his teachers have given him has been challenging. My daughter wants to “help” him, but he thinks she’s being annoying,” Chandler said, “I find that I’m checking email and working on my some of my projects I want to do at odd times like when the kids are asleep.”

Both parents have been tag-teaming to help the kids with their work. Chandler is also trying to use this time to teach the kids some practical life lessons, like folding laundry and working in the family vegetable garden.

In between all that, Chandler has also come up with a protective mask prototype to help shield wearers from infection.

Making Masks

“I was reading about all of the shortages of PPE (personal protection equipment) for health care workers and people starting to make masks to donate in other cities,” Chandler said. “I've been sewing and quilting for over fifteen years, so I happened to have a good stash of fabric.”

She researched a few designs online and cobbled together ideas from some of the better ones. “Most of the instructions floating around the net call for elastic for the earpieces,” she said. “I didn’t have any elastic in my sewing stash, so I used what I had: fabric.”

The prototype Chandler ended up with has a wired top edge. “It’s designed to fit people's noses better, a space to slip a filter in if they have them and fabric ties so you don't have to worry about latex allergies,” she said.

Whenever she gets a slice of time between work and family responsibilities, Chandler slips into her sewing room to make a few more masks. Sometimes the kids help too. The five-year-old recently practiced basic math by counting and sorting the colorful ties.

She plans to donate the handmade masks to area hospitals and agencies so that they are available to first responders and medical personnel treating patients on the front lines.

“It’s a win-win: I’m helping myself and helping others while practicing social distancing,” she said.

Chandler has some advice to others trying to deal with this unusual, uncertain situation.

“Don’t try for perfection! Have patience with yourself and others since we’re all in the same boat and navigating through uncharted waters,” she said. “I would also try and do something for yourself. Currently, making masks is my outlet. I can go to my sewing room, put on some music and practice some mindless mindfulness while doing something for others at the same time.”