The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed longstanding fractures and disparities in America. On one hand, there have been growing protests by Trump supporters and others who are calling for the end of statewide stay-at-home orders to open up the U.S. economy. One such protest took place in Minnesota on Friday, where people gathered at the Governor’s Mansion—many not wearing masks or practicing social distancing—in order to press Gov. Tim Walz about lifting the state shutdown.
On the other hand, there has been an urgent call to address data that shows African Americans and Latinos have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in cities across the country. In Chicago, for example, 70% of the deaths from COVID-19 are from the Black community even though only 30.1% of the population is Black. Similar story in Milwaukee where 81% of the deaths from COVID-19 are from the Black community even though 27.2% of the population is Black.
So far, in Minnesota, 3% of the coronavirus-related deaths were from the Black community who make up roughly 6.8% of the overall state population. But the number of Blacks who have contracted COVID-19 has risen to 12% as testing has increased.
Seeing the trends across the country and hoping to prevent such a reality among the most vulnerable in Minnesota, the Racial Justice Network (RJN), a multi-racial, grassroots organization committed to fighting for racial and socioeconomic justice, decided to take action and started a mask drive. We talked with RJN organizer Nekima Levy Armstrong over the phone to observe social distancing guidelines.
“I posted on Facebook saying that we need masks for North Minneapolis and I asked if there were any folks willing to make masks,” Levy Armstrong explained. “That post came out of a conversation around the vulnerability for North Minneapolis around COVID-19.”
For the first drive on Wednesday, April 8, they received a few hundred masks. For the second drive held Saturday, April 18, they received over 300 masks, along with hand sanitizer. The masks have been given out near Cub Foods on West Broadway and Zion Baptist Church in North Minneapolis.
Once 150 or more masks are made, volunteers go out into the community to give them away. Levy Armstrong said several people are making masks while others are donating materials.
Some masks have been even been personally delivered to people who have reached out on Facebook. The goal of the mask drive is to get a mask in the hands of everyone at risk who needs one.
Below, Levy-Armstrong’s Facebook post thanks volunteer sewers for 300 masks.
The CDC recently changed its guidelines and is recommending everyone wear cloth masks when out in public. According to CDC guidelines, cloth face coverings should:
- fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
- be secured with ties or ear loops
- include multiple layers of fabric
- allow for breathing without restriction
- be able to be laundered and machine dried without damage or change to shape
“There are tons of people that are making masks for medical professionals and first-responders,” said Levy Armstrong. “Some were willing to shift to make masks for people in the community.”
Organizers of the mask-drive hope their presence helps raise awareness. “I think the visible representation of people in our community helps inform the rest of the community to wear them,” said Levy Armstrong.
She added, “It’s important for everyone in our community to protect themselves and realize how serious a threat COVID is to our community. We already lack access to quality healthcare and medical supplies, which only makes it worse. It’s a silent killer in our community.”
Chris Juhn is a contributing photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.