You must wear a mask

By Carol Stiffler

Wearing a mask in public seems commonplace in some countries, like China, where air quality is very poor at times.

But in the Upper Peninsula, it is far outside the norm.

Until now, that is. On Friday, April 24, Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended the Stay at Home order to May 15, and added a mandate that anyone who ventures out into public buildings must wear a face mask. She asked citizens to leave the medical-grade masks for health care workers and to wear a cloth face mask, scarf, or bandana over their nose and mouth when they head out. Though she said it is mandatory, she also said no citations will be given to people who don’t comply.

A majority of people complied quickly, and now a quick trip to the grocery store can leave you wondering who all these masked people arenyou are shopping with.

Newberry resident Kathy Dzelak has been making cloth face masks for months, after her niece in Minneapolis asked for 45 of them. She has been producing them at great speed since and says she has now made more than 250 masks.

“My oldest daughter is a pharmacist in Alaska,” Dzelak said. “She sent me a pattern. She said ‘Mom, people are going to need these masks.’ I just used that pattern.”

Dzelak says it’s simple – just a 6.5 inch by 9.5 inch piece of fabric, doubled, with pleats and elastic.

“It’s pretty basic, but it works,” she said.

Once she got going, she figured IGA employees could use some… The Newberry Fire Department might need some… Workers at the Catholic church might need masks. She kept sewing.

Word got around.

“People were calling: ‘Can I have a mask?’” she said. “I was starting to feel like a drug dealer. I would hang a bag on my garage door. People were pulling up to get bags off my garage door to get masks.”

Dzelak has placed a box of masks on the lottery counter at Rahilly’s IGA with a sign that advises people to take a mask if they need one. She has refilled it more than once and believes she has placed about a hundred masks there.

If she pushes it, she thinks she can do between 20 and 30 masks a day. And she’s not the only person in town piecing masks together: Marie McNamara, Linus Parr, Dixie Stewart, Judy Haupt, Vicki Derusha, Bob and Cheryl Powell, and the Girl Scouts in Curtis have been sewing, too.

As Whitmer slowly begins opening the state back up – some outdoor industries are able to resume work – employers are immediately required to provide masks to employees, which means demand for masks will only increase. The state Attorney General office released a statement on Monday, asking law enforcement to take into consideration “good faith efforts” by employers who must now scramble to find masks.

“While businesses work diligently to find appropriate face coverings to meet the requirements of the Executive Order, I urge employees that can safely do so to use their own face coverings as protection until businesses provide face coverings as required by the Governor’s order,” said Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Dzelak says she’ll keep making masks, and says it would be easy for anyone to do.

Anyone who does not yet have a mask can cover their nose and mouth with a scarf or bandana, said Governor Whitmer.