LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of COVID-19, health experts say, but that can present quite a challenge when it comes to singing.

The University of Oregon’s Opera Ensemble Director Karen Esquivel teaches her students how to sing and perform on stage, but when COVID-19 hit, shows stopped and rehearsals were no longer safe.

“We sing with hot air. All this hot air comes out,” she told KPTV.

Then in October, Connie Kulick, vice chair of the advancement council at the School of Music and Dance, stepped up to help bring the group back together.

“I have a love for music!” she says.

Kulick is also a retired emergency room nurse who cared for patients for nearly four decades.

“In order to be successful, we realized we needed to find one mask that was going to be adaptable for several faces,” she said.

Kulick and Esquivel began researching, drawing and sewing various versions of a mask that would allow enough flexibility for the technique and breathing of singing.

“We needed to look at resonance how sound would project out of these masks so they would be performance quality,” Kulick said.

After several months and the help of community donations, the two settled on 800-thread-count cotton as the ideal material and decided to use a double-layered construction to add an extra level of protection. The final product uses zip ties sewn into the seams to keep the material away from the nose and mouth.

“The mask gives you room to articulate, to move your mouth,” Esquivel told AroundtheO. “I tried singing with a face shield at home and I gave myself a headache. The sound just bounces back.”

The new masks allowed the ensemble to get back into a rehearsal space together at 12 feet apart.

“At least we’re far enough away from each other that we’re safe, but at the same time, we get to be with each other and take music together, and that’s been awesome. It’s been great,” Esquivel said.

The ensemble is rehearsing for their performance that’s scheduled for January and will be live-streamed.

The masks have worked so well that the school of music is now raising money to have them distributed to all choral and singing groups on the Eugene campus.