Last week, Madison mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway asked residents to donate cloth masks to support the city’s public works departments. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the city has begun to run short on protective facial coverings for its essential workers.
In a press release last Friday, Mayor Rhodes-Conway said that the city is working to preserve medical-grade Personal Protective Equipment, including surgical masks and N95 respirators, for healthcare workers.
According to Deputy Mayor Katie Crawley, the facial coverings the mayor’s office is requesting are different from those used in hospitals and by first responders.
“These are not the masks that physicians and nurses would be wearing when they’re dealing directly with patients who have COVID symptoms,” Crawley said. “And we didn’t want them to be confused with N95s or some of the more technical masks.”
Crawley says since the masks will not be used by high-risk healthcare workers, they won’t be subjected to typical quality checks as medical grade PPE.
So far, the city has received a few hundred masks from residents and organizations. Most of the donations have gone towards local fire units, but the city is working to redistribute them to other essential utility services.
One of the departments on the waiting list is Madison’s Public Water Utilities. According to Amy Barrilleaux, Public Information Officer for the agency, they have yet to receive any of the donated facial coverings.
“We haven’t gotten any of the masks yet. I know they’ve been dropped off at a couple of fire stations and they’re being laundered and then they’ll be distributed out to agencies. But so far, we haven’t gotten any of those, but we’re hopeful that we will,” she said.
The Public Water Utility has already taken steps to isolate its essential employees. Central water control operators have been working 12 hour shifts for the past month. During those shifts, operators are isolated in a single room and allowed no physical contact with the outside world, according to Barrilleaux.
“That means no one is allowed in or out of that entire area except for those key employees,” she said. “They’re the ones who make sure that the water system is operating and there’s a constant pressure throughout the system. They are the front-line workers to be sure everyone still has water.”
The water utilities service has currently suspended most of its operations that involve direct contact with residents, says Barrilleaux. But, the agency still has field teams of three to four working to maintain water mains and wells. Those teams still require masks to prevent community spread.
In addition to donations from citizens, the city has ordered cloth masks from medical supply vendors, according to Crawley. But, due to the global shortage, it might take a while to get those supplies.
“I don’t know exactly how back-ordered they are. I think we feel pretty confident that we will be getting them, because, frankly, I think we’re going to need them for quite a while,” she said.
Guides to producing protective masks can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. Finished masks can be donated at city fire station #2 at 421 Grand Canyon Drive and station #8 at 3945 Lien Rd.