Scientist helps social workers combat COVID-19

Some of Dr Salek's latest designs.

There are many new and inventive ways the Heriot-Watt community is coming together in the fight against Covid-19.

Dr Karina Salek is the latest academic who is combining her artistic flair and crafting skills to protect frontline social workers in Scotland.

The scientist, who belongs to the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences based at the University’s Edinburgh campus, has been using colourful, patterned cotton to create eye-catching facemasks. On the reverse of each, Dr Salek has sewn a pocket where a professional filter can be inserted, helping prevent the spread of potentially harmful particles.

I have always been interested in crafts and design and when I saw on the news that social workers and care homes are struggling to get all the PPE they need, I thought I could use my skills to do something useful.

Dr Karina Salek

Since launching her project from home at the beginning of April, Dr Salek has donated more than 45 face masks to the Scottish Association of Social Workers (SASW) who distribute them to those in most need.

Dr Salek said: “I have always been interested in crafts and design and when I saw on the news that social workers and care homes are struggling to get all the PPE they need, I thought I could use my skills to do something useful. My great inspiration was my mum and my boyfriend who both were trying on all my prototypes, giving me tips and hints how to improve the design. The situation we are all facing now due to the lockdown is hard on everyone, can cause sadness and depression. Therefore, I thought that by choosing bright and colourful patterns I could bring at least a little bit of joy to both patients and carers.

“I am very grateful for the university for giving us, scientists the option of working from home. Thanks to this, I can plan my day and have time for sewing as well as working on my papers.”

Dr Salek has paid for all the materials out of her own pocket and donated each face mask free of charge. She has no plans of slowing her production line and explains how her partnership with the SASW came about.

“After reading about a difficult situation of social workers not having enough of PPE, I decided to look for local organisations I could potentially contact,” she added.

“I found the SASW, which I had already heard of in the past, and emailed them offering my help and sending the photographs of the first masks I made. I got an amazing and lovely response from them, saying they would be very grateful for my help. This is how it started. I am now preparing a new batch of 25 face masks. I keep looking for lovely cotton fabrics and now I am designing head caps to match the face masks for a better protection!”  

Alistair Brown, national director of SASW, said employers needed to provide social workers with professional clinical PPE where they were carrying out face-to-face work.

“It is unacceptable where social workers doing that work have been left without PPE,” he said.

“We’ve made that case repeatedly and we’re glad that the latest feedback we’re getting is that things are improving and more social workers are getting the equipment they need.

“But Karina’s gesture has been so kind and a reminder of the support out there for our profession. While we’re clear that clinical, purpose-made PPE will be needed in face-to-face work by social workers, her masks could help social workers and loved ones keep well outside of work or while doing other duties. It can all make a difference in preventing the spread and risk. Her support and thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated.”

Dr Salek is keen to help even more frontline workers, particularly those who work in care homes. Care workers interested in contacting Dr Salek to find out more about her project can do so by emailing



Craig McManamon

Communications Officer


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