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A Mask Is More Than Just A Mask

Shelly Wong

November 23, 2020

Photo Caption:

Top L-R: Tenderloin Play Streets (photo credit Patricia Chang special to SFGate), Susan T. SF sewist, ITAV homemade fabric masks

Two pieces of cloth with loops around our ears. It’s a mask but More Than Just A Mask.

Do you remember where you were, what you were doing when you learned that masks might be requested to be worn in the United States? By then China, South Korea, and Japan had already had cases of the coronavirus and were fully masked up. In the beginning, there were advocates and doubters on the efficacy of N95s, surgical, and fabric masks. Dr. Fauci famously said initially that there was no need to wear masks and then reversed his position. Then the U.S. moved towards the idea that masks were important in fighting the spread of COVID-19. The evidence showed that masks were effective in protecting others from the person wearing the masks. Now in California we will not leave our homes, go for a walk or get into our cars without a mask. The cloth mask, 2 layers of fabric with loops around our ears, has now become our first line of defense against a pandemic that has claimed over a quarter of a million lives. It protects us and it protects others.

When we first started It Takes A Village Bay Area (ITAV), our purpose was to donate fabric masks to hospitals and healthcare providers. The severe shortage of N95s and surgical masks led the hospitals to stockpile fabric masks in the hopefully unlikely event that masks were needed by healthcare workers. In the early days of the pandemic the fabric masks that we made were used as N95 covers for frontline healthcare workers. We then provided masks for 85% of the non-medical personnel who work in hospitals. As masks became more available to the medical community, we now give masks to the same hospitals and health clinics to give to their patients.

Which begs the question, with the readily available supply of masks, disposable masks for $.30 each or fabric masks from Target for $1 each, why are our masks still requested and needed? Is it just because we provide them for free?

The fact that the U.S. Public Health System has been starved of funding for decades was a little known fact before the pandemic. Since 2010, spending for state public health departments has dropped by 16% per capital and spending for local health departments has fallen by 18%. Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that his “biggest regret” was “that our nation failed over decades to effectively invest in public health.” 1

Public Health is defined as “the science and art of preventing disease” and is medicine that is concerned with the health of the community as a whole. Medicine is defined as “the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease”.

As we have now waited 11 months for better treatments, we find that two things, masking and social distancing are still our main weapons against the virus. Until vaccines are widely distributed, the mask is our first, and really our only, protection. Without a vaccine or the “cure” we are relying on simple, low cost, easily accessible public health measures to minimize the virus spread.

ITAV's recipients are the medically underserved. With disproportionate access to quality health care in the United States, communities of need rely heavily on public health. One of the key components of public health is the focus on vulnerable populations including the frail, elderly, and those without insurance. And it is in these communities of need, the ones hardest hit in this pandemic, that the public health message needs to be the strongest.

Photo Caption: Dr. M. Singh Director of Social Work UCSF Medical Center, Healthright 360 SF, Dr. E. Tsuchimoto Pediatric Physician, Highland Hospital Pediatrics, Alameda Health Systems

A disposable mask given by a doctor to a patient employs the public health message:

Wear a mask, it will prevent a disease

It will protect you

It will protect me

A fabric mask given by a doctor messages:

You are important, we care about you

A homemade fabric mask, made by a community of volunteers, such as ours, who have sought out donations of fabric and sewists and drivers, messages:

You are an important member of OUR community

And we care about the community as a whole

A doctor who has dedicated their life to taking care of communities in need can say it all with one golden message by giving a homemade fabric mask:

Wearing a mask will prevent a disease

It will protect you

It will protect me

You are important

We care about you

You are a valuable member of our community

We care about the community as a whole.

A Mask is More Than Just A Mask, it is also a life caring message.

No one is safe until everyone is safe.

It Takes A Village Bay Area has donated over 61,000 masks including over 34,000

homemade fabric face masks since the start of the Pandemic supporting the medically underserved.

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