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Oregon city fights coronavirus by distributing homemade masks to all residents, beyond

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Residents in one Oregon city are coming together to achieve a public health goal: supply cloth face masks to every city resident and beyond in an effort to fight the novel coronavirus.

The Masks for Neighbors project in Sublimity, Ore., began after a local senior living community reported 16 positive tests for COVID-19. Project volunteers expect to produce and distribute 12,000 homemade masks in Sublimity and in nearby areas, such as the North Santiam Valley of Marion County, according to news outlet OregonLive.

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Greg Atkin, city councilman and retired firefighter, is spearheading the project.

“We had a small outbreak at a local retirement home,” Atkin said, according to OregonLive. The Marian Estates retirement home in Sublimity also saw one coronavirus-related death. Atkin estimates about half of Sublimity’s population consists of senior citizens.

“It’s always been my worst nightmare that something like that would run through our retirement center,” Atkin continued. “So we were talking, what can we do to help them?”

The initiative comes after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed its guidelines on face coverings, now recommending Americans to wear cloth face masks in public places to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC also advises immediately washing hands after removing face masks and routinely cleansing the masks in washing machines.

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Atkin recruited help via NextDoor and Facebook for gathering and washing fabric, as well as sewing the masks. And community members immediately responded with a willingness to assist: Atkin received about 400 yards of donated fabric and bought an additional 1,300 yards online, according to the local news outlet.

Local businesses are helping out as well. Bernina Stretch and Sew in Keizer agreed to cut fabric, while Santiam Cleanery in Stayton has taken on the cleaning. Additionally, Silver Fall Engraving in Silverton and Cruise Master Engraving in Sublimity will cut fabric patterns by using laser cutting machines.

"Every stitch, every slice of the scissors helps keep our community safe and it helps save the lives of our citizens!" Jim Kingsbury, Sublimity mayor, wrote on the town webpage. "Little did we know a few weeks ago, we would be using the sewing machine to help fight this COVID-19 battle!"

Some 2,000 masks have been created since Masks for Neighbors launched on April 6. The distribution will prioritize Sublimity’s frontline workers, retirement homes and residents at a 55-and-older mobile home park.

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Police, firefighters and members of the Stayton and Sublimity Community Emergency Response team will then embark on door-to-door deliveries for households. They plan to maintain a minimum distance of 6 feet for safety measures.

“I think we’re up to 50 sewers in the community, as far as Keizer all the way up to Lyons and points in between,” Atkin said, according to OregonLive. “Sublimity, Stayton, Aumsville, Turner. Just a lot of folks who have stepped up and said, ‘We’re home, and we’d love to help you.’”

The news outlet also reported Sublimity received a $5,000 grant from the Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation to help foot project costs.