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Thursday, February 25, 2021

Red Cross: Thousands of donated masks lessen cost ‘burden’ for families

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For the children Eddie Rivers Jr. sees each day at the Kids’ Voice of Indiana building in downtown Indianapolis, a face mask is a deciding factor between seeing an estranged parent in a safe space or enduring possible trauma.

“They are kids who are torn between two bad parents or bad guardianships,” the Kids’ Voice chief development officer said. “[We] provide a place where kids can go see their parents under a safe, watchful eye.”

The few board games in the rooms are coveted by children and teens to play with noncustodial parents, but what’s mandatory for all visitors are masks to comply with city and state mandates. Rivers said 50 clients a week make court-ordered play dates with children and most need free volunteer-made masks.

“Rather than turning anybody away, we will provide masks because some folks can’t afford them or forget them,” Rivers said.

Health experts with the Indiana Region of the American Red Cross said they are asking volunteers to make face coverings to help level an unequal playing field when it comes to the disparate effect of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“Black and Latinx people in all communities, including Indiana, are bearing an outsized burden of COVID-19,” said Chad Priest, Indiana regional chief executive officer for the Red Cross. “It is almost designed to exploit the fault lines in society.”

The Red Cross encourages people to wear cloth face coverings in public spaces because it’s an evidence-based public health measure, Priest said. 

More than 136,000 Indiana residents have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Indiana State Department of Health data. Black residents of Marion County have tested positive for COVID-19 at a rate nearly twice that of white residents, according to SAVI.org

Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine said part of the reason could be because Black Hoosiers serve in eight out of the 10 lowest-paying jobs in the state’s service sector, such as bus drivers and waiters.

“They are forced to be on the front lines, having a higher risk of exposure to multiple people,” Caine said.

A statewide mask mandate from Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb is in effect until Nov. 14, which requires all people 8 years and older to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces, on public transportation and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible. The governor has left enforcement to state and county health departments. In Marion County, the county with the greatest number of coronavirus cases in the state, face masks are required in county public places and when indoors with other people.

Caine said a person’s respiratory droplets can remain in the air for up to 30 minutes, so it’s important to wear a mask that covers both your mouth and nose. 

Priest says mask skeptics need only to look to the past for proof this public health measure works. 

It’s been a century since the Indiana Region of the American Red Cross last called on Hoosier volunteers to sew masks.

According to the University of Michigan Library’s influenza encyclopedia, in 1918, the Indiana board of health secretary also made masks mandatory in public spaces.

“Our mission is to alleviate human suffering, and it’s really emotional for those of us in this business because there is this sort of connection through time with our heritage,” Priest said.

Just like that Hoosier history, Priest said it’s not always possible for some Central Indiana families to get affordable personal protective equipment.

That’s why the Red Cross is set to distribute 100,000 masks made by volunteers to nonprofit organizations by the end of the year. Dozens of volunteers answered the organization’s July call to assemble masks as part of the “#DoingMyPart” campaign. 

Kids’ Voice leaders said they are thankful to be able to distribute the donated masks.

“It’s tough when you are a child who loves your parents,” Rivers said. “Even though you were abused, you still want to see them. Those supplies could actually keep those kids seeing their parents regularly.”

Priest said mask-wearing reduces viral transmission, especially among people who don’t show symptoms but could be carrying the virus. 

“There’s this really beautiful, humanitarian circle here,” Priest said. “[The mask] is symbolic. No matter what the politics of the day are, no matter how angry or divisive we may feel, at the end of the day, Hoosiers stick together.” 

This story was reported as part of a partnership between WFYI, Side Effects Public Media and the Indianapolis Recorder. Contact Hilary Powell at hpowell@wfyi.org.

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