ELKHART — Free masks were up for grabs for Elkhart-area residents on Friday to help curtail a climb in positive COVID-19 cases.
With masks proven effective at reducing the spread of the coronavirus – and now a mandatory accessory in Elkhart County and elsewhere – the Minority Health Coalition partnered with the Elkhart County Health Department to ensure anyone in need has one.
“We want to make sure that we cover the community,” said Tara Morris, director of the Minority Health Coalition. “We want everyone to mask up, not just to protect ourselves, but to protect others because COVID has a handle on us and we wanted to make sure that we handed out as many masks as possible because this is only the beginning of this process.”
The cloth masks, made by Sew Loved Masks, can be hand-washed and reused, organizers said. More than 5,000 masks were distributed on a first-come, first-served basis from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at three Elkhart sites: Marathon gas station, Walmart Supercenter and Perfect Touch Barbershop.
State data shows that Elkhart County has the third highest number of positive cases in Indiana with 3,889 cases and 63 deaths as of Friday. That’s out of 28,256 total tests that have been done.
Referencing a recent Indiana University public health study, County Health Officer Dr. Lydia Mertz said in previous reports about 45 percent of people who tested positive for coronavirus weren’t showing symptoms. That means they could unknowingly infect someone else with the virus, which can be spread through respiratory droplets.
“Multiple studies elsewhere have shown adding face masks to other infection control measures adds a significant level of infection protection for populations,” Mertz said. “Without a substantial addition to our current methods of infection control, Elkhart County will experience continued worsening of the rate of infection, further strain on our local health system and increased numbers of deaths.”
To curb the spread of the respiratory virus locally, a mask mandate went into effect this month in Elkhart County that requires everyone to wear a mask when in public areas where they cannot maintain a distance of 6 feet from others. It applies both indoors and outdoors.
The order advises adults to supervise the use of face coverings by children ages 3 to 12. Children 2 and younger are not required to wear a mask because it may restrict their breathing.
At the mask giveaway, organizers said a steady line of people turned out at all three sites with the highest traffic at Walmart off C.R. 6.
“The first question that people had when they came up to us was, ‘Are these masks free?’ said Terry Mark, a member of the COVID-19 Response Team. “And when we told them they were, folks encouraged people to take multiple masks because we know people had others in their households who may also need a mask. So we want to make sure they take as many as they think they’ll need.”
Morris said she was pleased with how the mask giveaway turned out and that information for future distributions should be announced Monday.
‘We must continue to reach more people and encourage them to mask up,” she said.