Michigan sending 4 million free face masks to groups vulnerable to COVID-19

Michigan residents will be getting millions of free masks as part of a new effort to bolster protections against COVID-19 and encourage residents to continue wearing face coverings when around others.

Part of the governor's latest press conference regarding coronavirus briefings, Friday's announcement brought news that 4 million masks will be provided to residents "most vulnerable" to the virus. The MI Mask Aid campaign will be providing the face coverings to low-income residents, seniors, schools and homeless shelters.

The masks are being supplied by way of a partnership with Ford Motor Company, the state, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Michigan needs to continue to ‘mask up’ to protect us all from COVID-19,” Gov. Whitmer said. “Vulnerable populations may have difficulties buying masks and our schools need face coverings to keep students, staff and community members safe. I am thrilled that the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Ford and FEMA are working together to help control the spread of the coronavirus.”

FEMA has already provided 1.5 million masks that were sent to organizations that serve low-income residents, state health offices, homeless shelters, elderly demographic agencies, and Native American tribes.

Another 1 million from the federal government, along with 1.5 million will come from Ford, which is issuing the masks to low-income schools, Detroit, health centers, and some COVID-19 testing sites. This is not the first time Ford has engaged in a public-private partnership with governing bodies to aid national and state efforts to combat the virus. Earlier on during the pandemic, the company helped build respirators and ventilators for hospitals.

Both Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II say the connection between racial disparities linked to COVID-19 and where the masks are going is not a coincidence.

"The irony of this pandemic that requires physical distancing is that it reveals how connected we truly are—how much we rely on one another every day," said Gilchrist said. “I’m thankful for our partners at Ford, FEMA and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for coming together in a big way to ensure that our communities, particularly those hardest hit, have what they need to get through these tough times. By delivering four million masks at no cost to Michiganders, we can provide a proven, lifesaving device to countless residents as they go back to work, school, and define new way of living during this pandemic.”

As new evidence regarding the virus surfaces about how it travels and how it doesn't, masks have increasingly been seen as a method for slowing the spread of the virus. Studies cited by the state show masks can reduce the spread of the coronavirus by 70%.

At the same time, new studies show masks with valves and neck sleeves don't slow the spread of the virus as well as N95 masks might. 

If you'd like to learn more about how you can get a free mask, check out the Michigan Community Action website here.