A good fit

A medical student researched cloth masks — and sewed them

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Elle Newcome
Elle Newcome

When COVID-19 was starting to spread earlier this year, University of Minnesota medical students were pulled out of clinics and hospitals. Elle Newcome, now a fourth-year medical student, asked herself how she could be helpful outside of the clinical space.

She had something special to offer, as she had been sewing since she was young.

“This was where I saw my piece fit in the puzzle,” says Newcome. She had a personal design business for which she was sewing cloth masks.

But she also wanted to do research on the efficacy of cloth masks worn by healthy individuals in a community setting.

Making the research connection

Face maskFirst, Newcome reached out to the Health Sciences Library Makerspace design lab and they put her in touch with Lisa McGuire, Associate Director for Education & Research Services in the Health Sciences Libraries. McGuire also is a seamstress who gave Newcome a new, upgraded mask pattern.

McGuire also helped Newcome with her research for a May independent study class on mask use for the Family Medicine clerkship course, on which HSL librarians and Medical School faculty have collaborated for more than 10 years.

Newcome looked at studies that were being published during the time of COVID without the benefit of peer review, as well as those from the pre-COVID era that were peer-reviewed and thus more reliable.

In her plain language summary, which can be found on the Libraries Digital Conservancy, Newcome notes that cloth masks may be helpful in blocking disease spread from infected people, but more research is needed on whether healthy people benefit from wearing them in community settings.

Making the community connection

The two-week independent study project evolved as Newcome became connected with Mask Up North Minneapolis, an initiative of the African-American Leadership Forum and Broadway Family Medicine Clinic. The Mask Up goal is to reduce COVID health disparities in the North Minneapolis by creating 10,000 masks. Newcome sewed about 100 masks for the project, some of which went to Mask Up, others to the Racial Justice Project, and others were handed out at the George Floyd protests.

Newcome supports that community-led effort and remains in touch with McGuire, as she continues her medical education back in the clinics.

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