A million free masks distributed to RI communities through state initiative

12 on 12: Vaccine 101

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Health Equity Zone Initiative, a division of the Rhode Island Department of Health, recently hit a very positive milestone: they’ve distributed more than a million free masks to Rhode Islanders.

Christoper Ausura, the initiative’s chief of special projects, said while many people may not be familiar with the group, they consider themselves a more “on the ground” division of the Health Department.

“Our approach has been and continues to be that equity is at the forefront of the response to COVID-19,” Ausura added. “We know that not all communities are being affected equally, and then if we are going to really get ahead of the pandemic, we need to understand that we have to get down to the community level.”

Ausura said this was done by establishing 10 zones in Rhode Island, which cover about 65% of the state:

To distribute all of the masks, the initiative sent them to 108 different organizations, according to Ausura.

“Those masks went to residents, faith-based communities, sports leagues, public housing, senior citizens, small businesses, health care providers, child care providers, you name it,” he said.

More than 425,000 of those masks went to One Neighborhood Builders, health equity project manager Allegra Scharff said.

“We asked for that from RIDOH, and they were able to give us that and more,” she said.

“We spent one day just sitting outside of our office and giving boxes to different organizations,” Scharff continued. “But while we were doing that, we saw that a lot of community members were coming up and asking for masks as well.”

Ausura said the initiative plans to continue giving out free masks.

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