PROVIDENCE -- You know Rhode Island is serious about face coverings when the Big Blue Bug is wearing a mask.
"Nibbles Woodaway,” the giant blue termite anchored to the rooftop of a pest control company, has been Rhode Island’s unofficial mascot and a quirky symbol of welcome along Route 95 and Route 195 for 40 years.
Nibbles ushers in the Christmas season wearing a Rudolph nose and lights, and cools off in the summer with a giant Awful Awful from Newport Creamery.
So as the novel coronavirus spread into Rhode Island and Governor Gina M. Raimondo ordered people to start wearing cloth face masks, Big Blue Bug Solutions got dozens of calls and emails asking one pressing question:
Where is Nibbles’ face mask?
“It’s absolutely unbelievable,” Brian Goldman, CEO of Big Blue Bug Solutions said Thursday. “It’s become the symbol of the state, so whatever the state is going through -- good, bad or anything else -- they want Nibbles to represent.”
Nibbles stands barely a half-mile from Rhode Island Hospital, which is caring for people suffering from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. A registered nurse told the company that a mask on the Big Blue Bug would be an “inspiration for frontline workers," Goldman said.
“That really touched me,” Goldman said. “Then I said, we have to make it happen.”
But how? A fiberglass mask wouldn’t look real. A giant cloth mask wouldn’t be practical. So one of the managers suggested they paint the mask onto Nibbles, and that was it, Goldman said. He called Mike Moffitt, the president of Dennis Moffitt Painting, which had freshened up Nibbles after someone sprayed it with graffiti.
Moffitt was on board. “I have three daughters, and I told them, 'We’re going to be painting for the most famous Rhode Islander there is,” he said.
They thought he meant Raimondo. They were more excited when he told them it was Nibbles.
Moffitt brought in muralist Shawn Gilheeney, owner of Providence Painted Signs, who spent all day Wednesday painting a surgical mask onto the proboscis of the 58-foot, 2-ton eastern subterranean termite.
“I figure everybody is sewing masks, so I can do my part,” Gilheeney said.
As soon as he finished, Big Blue Bug Solutions posted photos on social media of masked-up Nibbles. People were overjoyed.
The company now plans to hang a banner this week thanking frontline workers as well as all Rhode Islanders for doing their part.
And, Goldman said, Nibbles will wear the mask for as long as all Rhode Islanders are required to. “If this is part of the norm for everyone else, it’ll be part of the norm for Nibbles as well,” he said.
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Rhode Islanders continue to face the coronavirus with a variety of masks and cloth face coverings, in keeping with directives from public health officials.
In early April, we ran a photo essay about the masks being worn by Rhode Island political, health, sports, and business leaders during this coronavirus epidemic. And the photos continue to come in.
Two-time Olympian Molly Huddle, a Providence resident who has set American records in the 5K, 10K and half marathon, wore a Saucony bandana and a T-shirt from the Brave Like Gabe Foundation:
Attorney General Peter F. Neronha wore his mask at his desk:
Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio wore his mask outside his home in North Providence:
Rosa Morales, an administrative assistant in the Rhode Island Department of Health, wore a mask like those she has made for Governor Gina M. Raimondo and Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Department of Health:
Kaitlin Gregg Goodman, a Providence runner who has qualified for the Olympic Trials four times, wears a mask as she trains for the Boston Marathon:
Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, medical director for community affairs at Care New England and host of the “Nuestra Salud” radio talk show, wears a mask in his radio studio:
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