As those in Lewis County continue the response to COVID-19, an emphasis on the supply of protective masks remains at the forefront of the effort to slow the spread of the virus.
That’s why United Way of Lewis County Community Resource Coordinator Ryan Cole felt it was important to be involved in the Washington Mask Challenge, an initiative spearheaded by Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib that encourages members of the public to both contribute and wear protective masks.
As of now, Cole said masks are being donated and distributed by the Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce. He added that while agencies and employers are currently being prioritized, there is a limited amount of masks dedicated for individuals who are in need of one.
“The more people that wear masks and protect themselves and other people, the sooner we can start to talk about reopening the economy and going back to life as normal,” Cole said. “This is definitely a good step in that direction and I think it’s very important.”
The Centralia-Chehalis Chamber of Commerce became involved with the effort after inquiries from United Way and Callie Carpenter of the Lewis County (WA) Mask Sewing Group on Facebook. Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Alicia Bull said the two asked if the Chamber would be interested in serving as a pick-up and drop-off location for the masks.
“We’ve been involved with the distribution of PPE for the local first responders and I think that’s kind of how we became the focal point as far as being a distribution and pick-up spot,” Bull said. “They contacted us, asked if we’d be willing to do that and we were really excited to do it.”
Bull continued by saying some of the masks donated will be used to help local businesses as they move toward reopening.
“It’s going to be not only great for all the community, but for businesses that will need (the masks) for operation,” Bull said.
As for the sewing of the masks, the effort has been an undertaking of local members of the community like Carpenter. Her Facebook group is now up to 869 members and as of April 30, she says they were close to hitting a total of 12,000 masks made and donated since the group’s creation.
Since Gov. Inslee adjusted restrictions on construction, Carpenter says she’s seen more of a demand for the masks among businesses.
“I think that’s where everyone kind of sees everything shifting, is that when everyone will be able to go back to work, it definitely is going to be with those requirements of facemasks,” Carpenter said. “We’ll keep making and handing out masks as long as there’s a need.”
Carpenter said the group donated 400 masks to the Chamber last week and 200 the week prior. In the past, the group used its own resources to sew the masks. Now, according to Carpenter, United Way is going to help with the materials.
“We definitely have a purpose for what we’re doing,” Carpenter said. “With the support from United Way and from others in the community, definitely, it’s going to give us the ability to have the materials to make more (masks), but I feel like even without that, there’s so much passion in what we’re doing within the members of the group, I feel like we would’ve figured out a way.”
In addition to the Washington Mask Challenge, Cole says the Lewis County Community Services Coalition’s Communications Group that he’s a member of is working on an initiative called the Mask UP campaign.
Andrea Culletto, Community Relations Director for Twin Transit and member of the Lewis County Community Service Coalition’s Communications Group, said the challenge is based on social media, where participants can post pictures of themselves wearing masks, add why they wear masks and tag three friends to also do so.
“It could be anything from, ‘I mask to protect first responders, I mask to protect others, I mask because I’d rather just be healthy,’ I mean, there’s lots of reasons why people mask,” Culletto said. “We’re trying to get increased adoption of masking … we’d like to see our county be one of the strongest utilizers of this tool.”
Cole said the hope is that the Mask UP campaign and the Washington Mask Challenge work together to spread awareness of the importance of masks in Lewis County.
A successful result of the effort, in Cole’s eyes, is one in which the severity of the COVID-19 resonates with people a little more.
“A great outcome from this would just be that people kind of understand the seriousness of what we’re going through a little bit more,” Cole said. “Not that people aren’t taking it seriously, but, like we said, just making sure that if people can take the precautions to wear a mask, you know, educating people on why it’s important.”