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City to Mail Masks to Every Household

Patti Singer

Words matter: Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health, on the shift from “social” to “physical” distancing.
Video by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

City residents, your mask is in the mail.

City residents will receive surgical masks from the county’s stockpile. File photo

Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren announced May 8 that the city is mailing masks to every household as part of Monroe County’s plan to make sure all residents have a face covering to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

The city will distribute nearly 480,000 masks among 96,000 homes. Each residence will receive five masks.

Another 20,000 masks will be reserved for public health efforts as well as activities related to reopening the community and will be provided to businesses, churches and apartments as needed.

As important as the masks are, the city also is sending households another crucial item.

Warren said the city is sending reminders to residents to respond to the census. She said the city had planned in-person outreach, but COVID-19 prevents people from going door to door.

Warren said that renters may think their landlord will fill out form, but it’s up to the resident to make sure they are accounted for.

“If you don’t fill it out, we can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said during an online news conference. Federal funding to municipalities is based on populatoin, so an undercount can short-change the city.

As for the masks, Warren said the city is working with Panther Graphics, Canfield & Tack and Diversipack to get them to residents.

The masks are from the county’s stockpile, which was purchased with funding from the federal CARES Act. The cost to the city for mailing is $168,754, or approximately $1.75 per piece. The masks are scheduled to go out the week of May 11.

Towns and villages are distributing masks May 9 and May 13 at central locations.

Because the city has a large elderly population, many residents with pre-esixting conditions and/or limited access to transportation, officials chose to mail masks. Mailing also protects public health by eliminating mass gatherings.

The mayor said five masks per household were a starting point, and people who need more can call 311. She said the masks come with instructions for use — they need to cover the nose and mouth — but not care instructions. As for when they need to be replaced, Warren said this distribution could be the first of many. She said it’s not known how long the requirement to wear a mask in public will be in effect.

She said police would continue to educate residents on the need for masks.

As for supplying the masks, Bello said during a news conference May 6 that “when you ask the public to do something, and the public has been asked to wear face coverings, that you have to also provide that avenue to do that.”

Bello said he would reevaluate whether the county would need to resupply masks.

Bello several weeks ago requested that all residents cover their nose and mouth when they are in public and can’t maintain the 6-foot safety zone from others.

Monroe County is not fining or levying other punishment against people who fail to wear a mask. Bello said he prefers education and explaining to residents that by wearing a mask, they are protecting people who could be at high risk of complications. The novel coronavirus can be spread by people who do not show symptoms of COVID-19.

The county has worked with United Way of Greater Rochester to encourage residents to make cloth masks that can be given out by social service agencies.

It’s hard to know how long residents will need to wear masks in public, Monroe County Department of Public Health Commissioner Michael Mendoza said. Prevalence of the disease is low, meaning many people still could become infected.

“My message to the community is for the foreseeable future, let’s start to make this a habit,” he said. “I know it’s a weird habit. Quite frankly, we don’t know when this is going to end and how it’s going to look at that time. We ought to do what we can today to take advantage of the resources to do whatever we can to protect our loved and our older adults.”

Along with masks, the city will include information on community resources to help people affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our community and government have truly come together during this crisis to serve people who are struggling,” Warren said in a news release. “However, we know that many people remain unaware of the help available to them. This mailing provides information on food assistance, financial help, mental health and other services. …”