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Masks reveal the changing face of Rhode Island

With health officials urging us to cover our mouths and noses amid the coronavirus outbreak, what is your #RhodeMask?

Amy Pickworth, a Providence poet and editor of publications at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, wears a mask made by her friend Jessica Lowery.
Amy Pickworth, a Providence poet and editor of publications at the Rhode Island School of Design Museum, wears a mask made by her friend Jessica Lowery.

PROVIDENCE -- They are made of snazzy scarves, old T-shirts, and (hopefully) laundered socks.

Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee wearing a mask made of socks and elastic bands.
Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee wearing a mask made of socks and elastic bands.

Some are handmade, while others are clearly store-bought. Some are fancy, while others are simply plain.

But whatever the material or design, cloth face masks are the latest sign of how the coronavirus epidemic is changing the face of Rhode Island.

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea's patriotic Snoopy mask was made by Julianna and Annabelle Estrada, ages 9 and 7.
Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea's patriotic Snoopy mask was made by Julianna and Annabelle Estrada, ages 9 and 7.

At the outset of the outbreak, public health officials were urging members of the public not to buy surgical face masks so as not to cause a shortage for medical personnel, and were on the fence about the efficacy of lower-grade paper or cloth masks. But recently, that message has changed in response to a new understanding of how the coronavirus spreads.

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Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green shows off her mask in front of a poster of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo by Ana Paula Hoppe.
Rhode Island Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green shows off her mask in front of a poster of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo by Ana Paula Hoppe.

In short, as the Globe reported, you can carry the virus without knowing it, and you don’t have to be hacking and sneezing to infect someone. So now public officials are urging members of the public to wear cloth coverings on their faces.

Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner made his mask from an old T-shirt featuring a map of Rhode Island.
Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner made his mask from an old T-shirt featuring a map of Rhode Island.

On April 3, for example, Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the state Department of Health, encouraged Rhode Islanders to consider wearing cloth face covers when in public.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo went for the partial balaclava look.
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo went for the partial balaclava look.

The general public still should not be purchasing medical-grade masks, such as N95s, Alexander-Scott said. But she encouraged people to cover their nose and mouth with material secured to their head with ties or straps or simply wrapped around their lower face. She said people could make hand-sewn masks or use household items, such as scarves and T-shirts.

Former Rhode Island attorney general Arlene Violet
Former Rhode Island attorney general Arlene Violet

Alexander-Scott said public health officials are changing their message “because of how atypical the COVID-19 symptoms are.” People with COVID-19 may not feel like they have symptoms, or they may have mild symptoms and feel well enough to go out in public, she said.

Rhode Island House Minority Leader Blake Filippi wearing a T-shirt face mask on his property on Block Island.
Rhode Island House Minority Leader Blake Filippi wearing a T-shirt face mask on his property on Block Island.

“The primary role of a cloth face cover is to reduce the release of infectious particles into the air when someone speaks, coughs, or sneezes,” Alexander-Scott said.

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Jim Vincent, president of the Providence branch of the NAACP, went for the full balaclava ski mask style.
Jim Vincent, president of the Providence branch of the NAACP, went for the full balaclava ski mask style.

But, she warned, “Cloth face covers are not substitutes for physical distancing, washing your hands, and staying home when ill.”

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza

So, given those parameters, let’s see how Rhode Islanders are facing this public health crisis. Tweet a photo of yourself in your face mask, using the hashtag #RhodeMask.

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung

To get us started, we collected #RhodeMask photos from public officials such as Governor Gina Raimondo, Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green, House Minority Leader Blake Filippi, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa.

Rabbi Sarah Mack of Temple Beth-El in Providence went with the classic red bandana.
Rabbi Sarah Mack of Temple Beth-El in Providence went with the classic red bandana.

We also gathered photos of the masks worn by Rabbi Sarah Mack, poet Amy Pickworth, former attorney general Arlene Violet, and NAACP Providence branch President Jim Vincent.

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa
Central Falls Mayor James Diossa

But let’s not stop there. Let’s see how other Rhode Islanders are facing the outbreak.

Post your face coverings on Twitter using the hashtag #RhodeMask or e-mail them to RInews@globe.com and we’ll use some of the best in a future story here in the Globe’s Rhode Island section.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.