A coalition of Muslim leaders secured 40,000 face masks to distribute throughout the Greater Boston Area in hopes of helping those who have had trouble finding protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center announced Thursday plans to distribute face masks during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, which ends Saturday evening. The pair worked with a group of local physicians on the initiative.
“We saw a great need in our community for being able to provide greater personal protective equipment for the wider non-medical use — that is individuals who are interacting with the public on a large scale and yet who are not doing so in a medical capacity,” said John Robbins, executive director of CAIR-Massachusetts.
The purchase of 40,000 masks was funded by donations, Robbins said. The organizations have half of the masks and plan to start distributing them in the next two or three days. The organizers will be working with the Boston Office of Infectious Diseases and city officials to figure out the most high-impact areas and distribute masks to community health centers and local organizations.
The last day of Ramadan falls on Saturday with Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast. For the first time in recent history, celebrations around the world will be much smaller because of the novel coronavirus.
More than 90,000 people in Massachusetts have tested positive for COVID-19, and more than 6,000 people have died.
Gov. Charlie Baker mandated the use of face masks starting May 6 to limit the spread of the coronavirus, warning people to use cloth or single use masks in lieu of medical grade masks that health care workers need. Baker administration officials, citing public health experts, say having everyone in the state wearing masks when they cannot stay 6 feet apart can exponentially lower the chances that a person will become infected with COVID-19.
“Wearing a mask really is about protecting others in this case,” said Sana Syed, a neurologist in Boston who worked on the initiative.
Yet two weeks after the order took effect, religious leaders and advocates say face masks can be hard to come by.
“People have ordered masks online, and it’s taking a long time or they’re not coming in,” said Liz Ismail of ISBCC. “Procuring masks for the general public has been the biggest issue that we have seen.”
The Baker administration shared information online about what can be used as a face covering. An informational video was made available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Haitian Creole and Vietnamese.
When asked whether the state was working with municipalities on getting masks to people who lack access, Baker said last week it was on his list of things to do.