Beth Roth wearing a Mask of Hope. (Photo/Courtesy Moldaw Residences)
Beth Roth wearing a Mask of Hope. (Photo/Courtesy Moldaw Residences)

Homespun masks aplenty at Palo Alto Jewish senior facility

At the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, you were an outlier if you wore a mask. Now you’re given weird stares if you don’t have one.

To that end, a 77-year-old woman is trying to make masks the new normal in her Palo Alto continuing care retirement community.

Beth Roth, a former nurse who lives at the Moldaw Residences, located on the Taube Koret Campus for Jewish Life, has been working the past few weeks to distribute hundreds of hand-sewn masks to her fellow residents. This comes at a time when ordering or buying one in person has become increasingly difficult, especially for seniors living in facilities on lockdown.

Roth said the idea started with her daughter-in-law, a geriatrician at Stanford. The next step was linking up with Mask of Hope, a collection of students (and parents) from local schools who make the masks by hand and donate them to organizations and communities.

The masks are made out of cloth with an elastic strap that goes behind the ears. But most importantly, they’re really colorful.

“It’s like Joseph and his coat of many colors,” Roth said, alluding to the Bible character whose father gave him his famous, colored coat. “They have a personality of their own.”

After receiving the masks, Roth asked Moldaw staff to deep clean and dry them on high heat as a sanitary measure. Then she set about distributing them.

One of the schools participating in making the masks is Frank S. Greene Jr. Middle School in Palo Alto, where three sets of Moldaw residents have grandchildren.

Roth said her 30-year stint in the medical field prepared her for the task. For example, she pointed to research on how many saliva droplets are released when a person is wearing a mask vs. when they are not.

“I think it’s increased our awareness,” Roth said. “We realize we are very vulnerable as residents in a facility for the elderly.”

Meanwhile, at least one resident, Selma Zinker, is making her own masks. So far, she has sewn about 30.

“She is quite a known quilter,” Roth said. “We really appreciate it.”

Roth and Zinker’s efforts have come at a critical time.

Senior homes and skilled nursing facilities have been hit especially hard during the coronavirus pandemic. One tally by the New York Times, published April 17, found that approximately one-fifth of all coronavirus deaths in the U.S. (some 6,900 people up to that date) had occurred at nursing homes.

As of April 23, Moldaw hadn’t experienced a case of Covid-19, which Roth attributed to the measures the facility has taken. The senior home, which has a capacity of about 250 residents, has halted all in-person activities, is taking the temperatures of essential outside visitors and delivering meals to residents’ doors.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.