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Lt. Governor Cyrus Habib launches Washington Mask Challenge

Production of protective masks has ramped up across the globe. (Getty Images)

Washington has started to flatten the curve in its fight against COVID-19, but the battle is far from over. Governor Inslee will extend the stay-at-home order past May 4, and public health officials warn the new normal will look a lot different. One of those differences is that a lot more people will be wearing a face mask in public to protect themselves and others from the virus.

That prompted Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib to jump into action Wednesday and launch the Washington Mask Challenge, a statewide initiative to encourage Washingtonians to make, wear, and donate homemade cloth face masks.

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“We’re challenging Washingtonians, particularly those who are working from home or staying at home, to take this opportunity to make homemade cloth-based masks,” Habib said.

He added that while people should use the masks they make for themselves, this is an opportunity to do something bigger and help others.

“We’re asking that they make additional masks, that they work with the portal that we’ve created, send those masks to where they are most needed,” Habib said. “The key is we felt that we need to do everything we can to protect our workers. There are nursing homes, and grocery stores, and pharmacies, and social service providers and other essential businesses and organizations. It’s important to protect the workers there.”

Habib and the state have teamed up with United Way and Serve Washington. The partnership will facilitate homemade mask donations from the general public to organizations in need, such as nursing homes, homeless shelters, food banks, and others that regularly work with at-risk populations, but are not requesting N-95 or other manufactured masks for themselves since those masks must be reserved for health care providers on the front lines.

They ask that each person make at least ten extra masks to donate. Through their portal, United Way will get the masks to the agencies that need them. Certain sanitary guidelines must be followed, but directions are available online. Habib said you can make these face coverings out of inexpensive items at home, such as bed sheets or T-shirts.

Habib said it was unfortunate that early in the pandemic, there was confusion and really the wrong guidance offered by the CDC about whether people should be wearing face masks. Now, that’s been cleared up, and it’s clear masks are a vital part of our path forward.

In just the first several hours after announcing the challenge, Habib said they were contacted by people who were ready to donate over 7,000 masks, and they’re now working to connect those donations with the places that need them.

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Habib hopes the mask challenge serves as a way to bring people together in a sense of unity, even though we’re all far apart right now.

“Our hope is that a byproduct of all of this, an important one, is going to be the sense of purpose. People can feel a sense of being part of the solution and helping other people,” Habib said.

If you’d like to make masks to donate you learn how online here. If you are an organization in need of masks, find out how to make a request here.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her here.

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