Vulnerable Michigan communities to get 4 million free face masks

Face coverings to be distributed to low-income residents, seniors, schools, more

Rachel Adamus, right, helps her daughter Neva, 5, put on her mask before her first day of kindergarten on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020, in Dallas, Ga. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson) (Brynn Anderson, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced Friday a new initiative that will provide free face masks to vulnerable populations amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Four million masks will be distributed to low-income residents, seniors, schools and homeless shelters to protect communities most vulnerable to COVID-19 -- including “minority residents who have been affected by the public health crisis as a result of racism,” officials said.

“Michigan needs to continue to ‘mask up’ to protect us all from COVID-19,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Vulnerable populations may have difficulties buying masks and our schools need face coverings to keep students, staff and community members safe. I am thrilled that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Ford and FEMA are working together to help control the spread of the coronavirus.”

Both Ford Motor Company and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have partnered with the state to provide face coverings to Michigan residents as the state continues its battle against the virus.

Officials said Friday that 1 million face coverings from FEMA and 1.5 from Ford will be provided to low-income schools, the city of Detroit, federally qualified health centers, some COVID-19 testing sites and a number of organizations that assist vulnerable populations.

Whitmer says the free masks include 1 million masks provided by FEMA and distributed among these organizations, including local community action agencies.

The newly-announced initiative is part of Whitmer’s Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities, which is chaired by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II.

“The irony of this pandemic that requires physical distancing is that it reveals how connected we truly are -- how much we rely on one another every day,” Lt. Governor Gilchrist II said. “I’m thankful for our partners at Ford, FEMA and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for coming together in a big way to ensure that our communities, particularly those hardest hit, have what they need to get through these tough times. By delivering four million masks at no cost to Michiganders, we can provide a proven, lifesaving device to countless residents as they go back to work, school, and define new way of living during this pandemic.”

In July, Whitmer signed an executive order requiring face masks to be worn in all indoor public spaces and some outdoor spaces as COVID-19 cases continued to rise in the state. Businesses are also required to deny service or entry to individuals who fail to comply with the requirements.

A willful violation of the order is a misdemeanor subject to a $500 criminal penalty, but no term of confinement may be imposed on individuals who violate the mask requirement.

As of Wednesday, the state is reporting 90,392 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 6,289 deaths.

Face masks have been scientifically proven to significantly reduce a person’s chance of spreading COVID-19, officials say.

“Masks are proven to reduce a person’s chance of spreading COVID-19 by about 70 percent. There’s also growing evidence that masks can protect the wearer’s life, by reducing the severity of COVID if they get it,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said. “It’s critically important to make sure communities most impacted by COVID-19 have greater access to masks at no cost. The MI Mask Aid initiative is a critical step in this effort.”

A chart from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services regarding the risk of COVID-19 transmission in various scenarios when face coverings are and are not worn. The chart shows a high risk of COVID-19 transmission when no face coverings are worn, and the least risk of transmission when coverings are worn by both parties. (MDHHS)

Michiganders in need can obtain a free face mask a distribution location near them. Residents can call the state’s COVID-19 hotline at 888-535-6136 or look up their local community action agency online here to find a location.

Whitmer and other Michigan officials have been pushing for residents to wear face coverings amid the pandemic through the Mask Up Michigan initiative.

Whitmer said Friday that according to one estimation, 66,000 American lives could be saved if 95 percent of Americans wore face coverings between now and Dec. 1.

“The only way we can put an end to this pandemic is to take it seriously. Do our part to protect one another and do what works,” Whitmer said Friday. “My mask says ‘I wear this for you.’”

More: Gov. Whitmer signs order requiring children, workers to wear masks at Michigan childcare centers, camps

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.