Winston-Salem city leaders, health professionals and a local manufacturer announced a new initiative on Tuesday afternoon to provide masks to every individual in the city.

The initiative, which is being called “Mask the City,” is a new partnership between the city, area hospitals and Renfro corporation, a Mount Airy-based sock manufacturer.

“This new initiative will provide everyone in Winston-Salem access to a mask and to urge them to wear it,” said Winston-Salem mayor Allen Joines during an online press conference. “I believe that it will bring our community together.”

According to Joines, 300,000 masks have been earmarked for distribution in the city with 60,000 saved for those living below the poverty line and front-line health workers. Renfro, which is based in Mount Airy and is the largest sock manufacturer in the country, according to CEO Stan Jewell, has the capacity to create 1 million masks per week at peak production.

The goal is to provide a mask to every person in Winston-Salem, urge residents to wear them and continue social distancing for 40 days from April 22 through May 31.

Starting on Friday, those in need of a mask can also purchase them at local Lowes Foods locations on Robinhood Road, Reynolda Road and Peters Creek Parkway in Winston-Salem and at Lowes Foods in Lewisville, Bermuda Run and Kernersville.

The mask prototype, developed by Renfro and Wake Forest Baptist Health, can be washed up to 25 times and was tested by medical staff to ensure all-day comfort. The mask also has a “breathing pocket” that provides extra space around the nose and mouth to keep the mask more dry, and to promote better air circulation, according to Dr. Will Satterwhite, the chief wellness officer at Wake Forest Baptist Health. A website with information about the mask also provides a video guide on how to wear the mask properly.

Specifics about the new mask by Renfro. (screenshot)

However, they do not replace social-distancing practices and good handwashing techniques, cautioned health professionals during the press conference.

Satterwhite also mentioned that the purpose of the masks isn’t necessarily to keep those wearing them from getting sick, but rather to keep them from spreading their own germs.

“The primary function is it keeps me from being able to share my respiratory droplets,” he said. “Normally, if someone is breathing out, a wind current will carry those droplets several feet away. So this keeps me from sharing that with you. But also, if everyone wears one, it becomes a double effective layer. That’s why it’s important to mask everyone.”

According to Joines, several local businesses and nonprofits have committed to purchasing large numbers of the masks to provide to their and, in some cases, to their employees’ families. Renfro is offering the masks at a special price only available to the Mask the City initiative.

Exactly who will be the first to receive the masks through this effort is unclear. Stan Jewell, the CEO of Renfro, said that most people will get a mask through a business or nonprofit but couldn’t state which ones had already purchased masks.

Joines also urged people to accept just one mask even if they are offered masks through multiple outlets.

Chuck Spong, the executive director of Love Out Loud, a local collective of Christian churches, said that they already started distributing some of the masks meant for low-income communities yesterday.

“The first 60,000 masks didn’t go to the largest employer; they went to vulnerable communities,” Spong said. “The first delivery went out to partner organizations who service low-income families as well as seniors on fixed incomes.”

The Renfro mask gets tied behind the head rather than looping around the ears like other masks. (screenshot)

To help ensure that everyone receives a mask, the Winston-Salem Foundation set up a Mask the City — Winston-Salem Fund that will be used to provide grants to organizations to purchase and distribute the masks. To contribute to the fund, visit the website here.

Joines urged residents to wear masks every time they go outside to reduce the spread of COVID-19. When asked about his stance on reopening the city, he said that plans for that are “a little bit early” and that he doesn’t have a timeline yet.

“We’ve got to be very cautious about how we do that,” he said. “I do think that with the measures that we’ve put in place, we can start a very strategic reopening.”

For now, Joines urged everyone to do what they can to flatten the curve and keep COVID-19 from spreading.

“We are seriously challenging every person in Winston-Salem to practice social distancing and for everyone to wear a mask so we can hopefully reopen our economy a little sooner,” Joines said.

More information about the Mask the City initiative can be found on the website here while additional information about the mask, including how to wear it, can be viewed here and here.

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