As the coronavirus pandemic continues, masks of many colors, patterns and materials have become ubiquitous — or at least, they’re supposed to be.
In April, Mayor Steve Schewel mandated masks in public, making Durham the first city in North Carolina to do so. In early July, the city required all businesses to post signage telling their customers to wear masks in an effort to slow the rise of COVID-19 cases.
Now, the city and county have jointly launched a campaign in an effort to promote local businesses and unify the city around wearing masks to protect each other, called Durham Has You Covered.
“Durham Has You Covered is one part of a larger strategy for helping residents comply with local face covering orders,” said Ryan Smith, Innovation Team Project manager for the city and a member of the Recovery and Renewal Task Force. “We want to make it easier for residents and small businesses to find face coverings and at the same time we also want to support our local producers.”
Smith added that there is a certain level of accountability and heightened quality of products when people are able to buy local.
The city and county are working with Cover Durham, a community health coalition, on the campaign. The initiative provides the latest federal and state recommendations on personal protective equipment and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Durham Has You Covered also provides contact information for 20 local mask suppliers, in order to help support businesses that may be struggling during the pandemic.
Megan Eilenberger is one of those business owners. She enjoys sewing in her free time, and, like many others, began making masks for friends and family in March once the pandemic started getting worse.
“We experienced job loss in our family due to COVID,” she said. “In order to somewhat replace some of that income, I started to charge.”
Eilenberger said she has already sold around 400 colorful, custom masks for $8 each and donated 50 others. She is hopeful this campaign will boost her business.
Other companies in Durham have pivoted to making masks. Talib Graves-Manns’ luggage manufacturing company, Life on Autopilot, started losing business because of the pandemic.
“We’re not selling much luggage,” he said. “So we repurposed our sewers to do masks.”
He said they manufacture around 5,000 masks a week, which are being sold in bulk to medical suppliers and bodegas in Durham. He hopes to get a larger deal with the city to grow this new business, called the Masked Buddha.
Another supplier is Ngozi Design, a 10-year-old African-inspired clothing and graphic design company run by Andrea Carter. Ngozi has sold over 3,000 custom face coverings in 23 states since the start of the pandemic. Although it’s too early to tell how Durham’s campaign has impacted her sales, she attributes her success to word-of-mouth, her website and this new initiative. Her team “can’t make them fast enough,” she said.
“I’m always encouraged that I can do something to help,” she added. “I’m just grateful that I can make the masks, and hopefully they help men, women and children.”
Smith, from the city, said the campaign has emphasized businesses owned by people of color. “I think that it is putting our equity values into action and into practice to lift those historically marginalized businesses up, and we feel that that is always important,” he said.
The new campaign is one of many strategies the city is using to ensure residents and city staff stay safe during the pandemic.
In conjunction with mandates, the city is printing posters in Spanish and English and distributing them to local businesses, along with mask sets that they can hand out to customers.
The city, county and Durham Public Schools have contributed $67,000 to Cover Durham to purchase and distribute about 4,000 masks. Duke University also matched that donation in mid-July, and the city hopes to use it to purchase additional masks in the next few weeks, said Smith.
Eilenberger said initiatives like this have made her proud to be a Durhamite.
“I see people who post outside of Durham in neighboring counties who complain about residents not wearing masks and I can always comment on social media and say, ‘well, you’re clearly not living in Durham because that’s not the case here,” she said.
9th Street Journal reporter Cameron Oglesby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top photo: Andrea Carter, who runs mask supplier Ngozi Designs. Photo courtesy Andrea Carter