Fire fighters from the Fire Service Headquarters on Wrightson Road, display maskes made by Diane.

Days after citizens were advised to wear fabric/cloth face masks in public to protect themselves against COVID-19, local manufacturers say the demand has skyrocketed and they are now struggling to satisfy the orders flowing in from the corporate sector and private citizens.

A Fire Service Officer (FSO) for 28 years, Diane Noel made her first batch of face masks and distributed them amongst those on her shift at the Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain Fire Station last Sunday.

She explained, “There was a need for masks for fire-fighters who are frontline workers, as the authorities weren’t able to provide us with sufficient masks so everyone could get one.”

Listing sewing as her number one hobby, the mother of two added, “I had a large quantity of fabric at home because sewing is something I usually do, so I decided to use it and make for my shift at headquarters, and when I gave them it, they wanted more for their families.”

Admitting the first was free, she said the orders took off from there. Noel’s masks now retail for $40 each.

She admitted she did not know how her name ended up on a list of local manufacturers but said many of her orders were from law enforcement personnel.

Noel’s masks are made of two layers of 100 per cent cotton, which is the recommended fabric. It features breathable cotton for the underlining and a decorative fabric for the overlay. She estimated that one yard of fabric yields around 24 masks each.

Connecting with customers via What’s App, Noel said she recently brought on two friends to assist.

“I am doing all the cutting and will drop them off to be sewn once I have confirmed orders,” she said.

Her teenage son and daughter are also helping to compile orders and packages for delivery.

However, she said corporate companies want standard colours and not colourful patterns or fabrics, so the availability of fabric has become an issue.

And although her large orders have kept rolling in, she is assuring families and private citizens they will not be left behind. Up to 1 pm yesterday, however, Noel’s stock for adults, children and babies had been exhausted.

Over in Tobago, seamstress Verla Belfon said she got involved in manufacturing masks through her sister, who works at a popular supermarket and had been worried about the staff. The former teacher, who lives at Grafton, said, “Once I did that and other people saw them, they became interested and I have been selling through the supermarket since.”

Belfon’s masks retail at $50 each.

And just like Noel, she too is using 100 per cent cotton or drill material for the reversible and washable masks which contain an underlining and an overlay.

Belfon said, “The demand is so high that I will have to start sourcing fabric.”

Noel estimated she is able to produce up to 40 masks per day, while Belfon said her output can average up to 30 per day.

Advising the public on proper etiquette for wearing masks, Dr Sherene Kalloo yesterday urged persons to always ensure their nose and mouths are fully covered and to refrain from touching the inside of it. She also encouraged those using fabric/cloth masks to wash them daily using soap and water and not to place them atop one’s head or pulled down to the chin as this is not where it is meant to be worn.