Students from Common Ground High School are hard at work on a new social media campaign.
“Everybody is on their phone, everybody is checking their Instagram, their TikTok. It’s a daily thing,” said senior Sierra Vasquez.
That is where they’re making a push for young people to wear a mask and wear it properly. It comes after their community service project caught the attention of the New Haven Department of Health, launching a new “Mask Up New Haven” effort with the city.
“Having teenagers like us advocate and say 'yeah, this is a problem and you guys have to take this seriously,'” said senior Dayanara Chacon. She said teens need to push the COVID protocols because they can be carriers and get sick themselves.
She demonstrated how to wear one during a Zoom news conference Wednesday.
“And then I can like fit it over my nose and everything, you see? I look ten times better like this. You know masks can like totally change the game in the fashion industry,” Chacon said with a laugh.
The students say what’s not funny are social media influencers they see online who are hosting parties and vacations. They want to become influencers for good, making mask-wearing fashionable.
They are asking teens to post a photo wearing a mask on social media platforms using #MaskUpNHV. They’re asking users to include a reason why they’re wearing a mask, and then tag five friends to do the same.
Rodney Williams is running a similar masking mission in New Haven neighborhoods.
“I’ve given away approximately 80,000 masks,” said Williams.
He says he makes the rounds to the city’s predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods handing out ten masks at a time.
“If you tell me you have three, four kids, you know, some people come up to me and they get a hundred masks,” said Williams.
He’s from Newhallville and lost his father to COVID-19. He says in the beginning people weren’t wearing masks and the virus was “ripping through New Haven like a wildfire.” There were mask distributions for a while where people got up to five masks, but he says it’s slowed down.
Now, people are having trouble finding and affording masks. Through his construction contacts, Williams is stockpiling them by the cartons, some holding 4,000 masks each. And he’s covering the costs.
“If we know that wearing a mask is saving people’s lives, then we need to figure out how do we get the masks into the community,” said Williams.
In addition to the weekly giveaways, he’s offering to sell them to community groups and churches at prices that run about 10 cents each. He says masks are so marked up in stores, and it doesn’t make sense to him why people should go without them.
With a lot of focus on food giveaways and COVID testing, Williams says he’d like to see community groups, and local and state officials return focus to mask distributions, which he says is a big part of slowing the spread of COVID.
“The more I go out, the more I realize that I’m touching just some of them, but the need is greater than I’m able to do by myself,” said Williams.