Dane County Executive Joe Parisi joined the Department of Emergency Management and community partners to highlight the effort to help ensure all Dane County residents have access to face masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several county departments are working to purchase and distribute masks to community centers, churches, schools, food pantries and other outlets that can reach underserved communities and those who may be unable to afford masks.

“We want everyone to be safe. We want everyone to have access to these masks. We need people to take this masking requirement seriously,” Parisi said Wednesday, July 15, at a press conference at the Dane County Emergency Management Office on South Stoughton Road. “Frankly, we had the opportunity as a state to squash this virus … but unfortunately the guidelines statewide were lifted. While we can’t change that, we can do everything within our power locally to make sure that the residents of Dane County have access to what they need in order to keep themselves and their families safe.”

The Department of Emergency Management is in the process of handing out 100,000 masks to community partners, with about 65,745 of those masks already in the community. Thus far, Dane County has spent $150,000 on and has partnered with nearly 100 organizations to distribute them.

One of those organizations is the Latino Health Council, which will help distribute masks as well as educational information to families and businesses.

Many Latinx people have essential jobs in the hospital, janitorial, food and agriculture industries, said Teresa Tellez-Giron.

“These are jobs that are not possible to do from home,” she said. “Latinx have a higher level of poverty, and many cannot take advantage of the usual social safety net, forcing them to have to continue working even sick or even infected with the virus.”

Another nonprofit partner is Today Not Tomorrow Family Resource Center.

“In one month alone, our normal service is approximately 350-375 families. That has tripled since March,” said Jeanne Erickson, referring to the organization’s Project Babies program that offers education, information and support to families.

Dane County is also partnering with Dane County Mask Makers to facilitate small mask orders (10 or fewer) and individual cloth mask requests. The masks the organization provides are free and come from community donations. (To learn more or volunteer, visit www.danecountymaskmakers.com.)

Dane County’s face mask distribution effort comes as Public Health Madison & Dane County’s in-door face mask order took effect Monday, July 13. The order requires everyone 5 and older to wear a face covering or mask when in any enclosed building where other people, except for members of the person’s own household or living unit, could be present.

Megan Syverson, with the Dane County Mask Makers, said volunteers sew and distribute cloth masks to essential workers and anyone who cannot afford one.

“Since the mask order was announced, we have seen requests spike. In just the last six days, we have had 7,449 masks requested of us,” she said. “This includes at least 65 child care centers who have had to scramble to find a way to meet the new mask requirement for children in day care.”

An assortment of face coverings can be purchased in stores and online. Dane County Mask Makers and Public Health Madison & Dane County also have links to lists of local mask sellers on their websites. Those who can afford to purchase face masks are encouraged to do so to help ensure the continued availability of free face masks in the community.

Parisi said Wisconsin has recently seen a record number of coronavirus cases.

“Things are not getting better; they’re getting worse, to the point where there are states like New York and New Jersey and others who are placing travel restrictions on people from Wisconsin,” he said. “So, in no way is this pandemic under control.

“It’s impacting members of our Black and Latino communities at a higher rate than others. In Dane County, 12 percent of the population is Latino and African-American, and they account for 22 percent of the positives (test results) and 41 percent of the hospitalizations.”

Education, particularly among younger people, is important, Parisi said.

“The masking requirement is critical; it’s critical for people to see this as a public health effort,” he said. “This has nothing to do with politics, how you feel about any presidential candidate. This has to do with protecting yourself, protecting your family, your parents, your grandparents and your neighbors.”

Some may feel helpless during the pandemic, but wearing a mask is something tangible people can do to help their community, Parisi said.

The Wisconsin National Guard is scheduled to shut down its testing operation at the Alliant Energy Center on Aug. 7. The county has requested the Guard continue the program into the fall.

“If we lose that infrastructure, it will be very much of a challenge for our community because of the number of people going through there every day,” Parisi said.

Parisi said wearing a mask is nothing compared to the sacrifices countless others have made on behalf of the nation.

“We shouldn’t have to convince people that something as simple as wearing a mask is a big inconvenience. It’s really not,” he said. “You don’t wear a mask for yourself; you wear it for others.”

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