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Vancouver homeless charity turns to homemade masks amid coronavirus pandemic

UGM staff and volunteers produce colourful home-made masks for front-line workers with the charity.
UGM staff and volunteers produce colourful home-made masks for front-line workers with the charity. Union Gospel Mission

A Vancouver charity that works with some of the city’s most vulnerable street homeless has gotten creative in a bid to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Staff and volunteers with the Union Gospel Mission have cranked out hundreds of colourful, handmade cloth masks to be worn by UGM frontline workers.

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The masks were assembled from a pattern provided by a Canadian hospital, and are being used with reference to considerations noted by the federal government about homemade masks, said UGM spokesperson Jeremy Hunka.

“We know the mask won’t prevent COVID-19, but it could prevent the spread of [infected] water droplets,” said Hunka.
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“And they offer really a visual to communicate to our guests that we’re taking every step we can to try and protect and prevent the spread of the virus.”

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B.C. health officials have been adamant that the general public does not need to wear masks, and say while they do prevent the spread of droplets, most masks to not protect an individual from contracting the virus.

However, because officials now believe that some people are spreading the virus before they realize they are infected, there has been a vocal debate about whether a wider public use of masks may be effective in slowing transmission.

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The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Infection is reportedly now weighing whether to advise the general public to wear masks during the pandemic.

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“We just think it’s wise, given the vulnerability of the group that we are working with and serving,” said Hunka.

“And the fact that we need our staff to be as healthy and protected as possible to add another layer of protection, even though we know the limitations.”

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Hunka noted that homeless people often have depressed immune systems and other health issues.

He added that seeing front-line workers in masks could help communicate the gravity of the situation to homeless clients, who may not have access media and pubic health messaging that others in the community are getting daily.

READ MORE: Will homemade masks protect us from the coronavirus?

Some of the people stepping up to produce the masks were themselves former homeless clients of UGM, who wanted to lend a hand.

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It’s really incredible when you think about there were people who were on the streets recently, and they’ll be using these they’re using this time now to equip other front-line staff to continue doing good work during a crisis that we’ve never seen before” said Hunka.

“It’s really cool.”

Hunka said the mission does not need any other masks, but that people who want to help can visit their website.