April 14, 2020 | Matt Kucinski

Ziploc bags filled with face cloth coverings

On Thursday, April 9, the Calvin community was issued a challenge: create 500 cloth face coverings by Monday, April 13. The goal was to ensure that every student who is still living on campus and every essential staff member who is regularly coming to campus had access to at least one face covering.

“Because it was Easter weekend and I wasn't sure how easy it would be for people to get fabric and elastic and such, I wasn't sure if we’re crazy in asking for 500 in such a short amount of time,” said John Witte, dean of students at Calvin University.

Preparing, stitching together

The ask was big. But those keeping a close eye on CDC recommendations were anticipating that the recent recommendation for face coverings for onsite non-medical employees would likely soon become a requirement. And there would be plenty of students who didn’t have access to material to make masks, so having one or two masks provided to them would be beneficial as well.

“The CDC is now recommending that asymptomatic people wear a non-medical face mask when out in public,” said Dr. Laura Champion, director of health services at Calvin University. “There is little evidence regarding the benefit of a healthy person wearing a mask in public, but since the virus is known to spread through asymptomatic carriers in the days before someone develops symptoms, people who feel well may be shedding the virus without knowing it. So, universal mask-wearing can help prevent unintended transmission to others.”

Many hands, big hearts

And that universal mask-wearing is now possible on Calvin’s campus. The broader Calvin community had the on-campus community literally covered. The 500-mask goal was exceeded, with 580 masks in by end of day Monday, with many more on the way.

While at first Witte thought the goal might have been crazy …

“I never doubted that the Calvin community would step up. And wow, did they step up,” said Witte. “We are incredibly grateful for all the interest and support, and ultimately for all the masks!”

Protecting communities

The face coverings are being properly laundered on Tuesday, April 14, to make sure they are ready for distribution to all students living on campus and on-campus essential employees by Wednesday, April 15.

And any extra face coverings will not go to waste. There is expected to be an ongoing need for them and Calvin University health officials will make sure any they don’t need are put to good use in the broader community.

“The store bought masks are in urgent demand for our healthcare workers and medical first responders. Please continue to drop off store-bought masks as well,” said Champion. “There is still a huge need as our local epidemiologists anticipate a growing number to cross the threshold of our area hospitals.”

And while Dr. Champion says that wearing a face covering in public may only have a modest benefit, it is still worth doing.

“Wearing a mask is a cue for someone to not touch their face, which is believed to be the main mode of viral transmission,” said Champion. “Wearing a homemade mask will not only prevent your unwashed hands from touching your face, but it also shows solidarity in our community. Any little act makes a difference.”

It sure does. Many little acts, and some big ones over the past few days have made sure the Calvin community is literally covered.

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