As the entire world goes quiet, we’re quickly learning to appreciate our digital connections via social media, FaceTime, and old-school phone calls. Glitchy conference videos aren’t quite the same as a real-life conversation, nor is a heart emoji as comforting as a hug, but it’s certainly better than nothing.
Like any good millennial, most of my interactions are taking place on Instagram. Of all the direct messages I’ve received from friends, family, colleagues, and Vogue readers, the ones that hit closest to home are the notes inquiring about my twin sister, a nurse in a level-IV neonatal intensive care unit in New York. Designer friends who have met Liz (or just mistaken her for me on the street!) are reaching out to ask how she’s doing, and people who’ve never even met her told me they’re keeping her in their thoughts. Many are asking how they can help. Doctors and nurses are quite literally on the front lines fighting the coronavirus, and to make matters worse, hospitals around the country—especially in major cities like New York—are struggling to prepare themselves for a spike in cases. At its peak, New York could need as many as 110,000 hospital beds, and according to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, we only have 5,000.
Most of us have learned that hospitals all over the world are also running out of supplies, namely face masks. It’s a two-part problem: Half of the face masks American hospitals use are made in China, which temporarily halted exports as it grappled with its own outbreak. Even with expanded production, China’s factories aren’t on track to meet demand—exacerbated by panicked, non-medical professionals buying up the supply for themselves at heightened prices or on the black market. It’s irresponsible and probably unnecessary: The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly said the general public does not need to wear masks. Plus, my sister quickly pointed out that regular surgical masks don’t completely protect you against the coronavirus. This CDC infographic succinctly compares a paper-y surgical mask to an N95 mask, which filters out 95% of airborne particles. Both are meant to be single-use.
Aside from my close friend living in Delhi, India, where an N95 is a daily necessity due to the pollution, regular people shouldn’t be wearing them. I’ve seen tourists visiting the World Trade Center in N95s, and celebrities and influencers are showing off their N95 masks on Instagram, usually just to run errands or drive around Los Angeles. I can’t help but feel infuriated, seeing as my sister has been given one—one!—N95 to use over and over for the foreseeable future (the hospital recommended she store it in a paper bag between shifts). It could be weeks or months, because things are unlikely to change anytime soon; it’s gotten to the point where the CDC is now advising nurses and doctors to use bandanas if they can’t find a mask.