It’s a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic and we have all witnessed the incredible effects mask wearing has on slowing the transmission of the coronavirus.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consistently shares data relating to the efficacy of cloth face coverings to demonstrate how masking up can protect people around the US. Even with the introduction of lifesaving vaccines in the US, public health experts underscore how states with mask mandates report decreases in daily COVID-19 cases and death rates.

For Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, masking up is one of the simplest and most important ways they can protect themselves and others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, adding to the widespread racial inequality that has plagued the nation for years. Part of this is due to longstanding distrust in the government and health care system, arising from both covert and overt acts of racism. Another reason has to do with limited outreach in communities of color, which have fewer vaccination sites and resources available to protect against the coronavirus.

To protect themselves and their communities from contracting COVID-19, people of color are continuing to mask up even while some states have chosen to end their mask mandates. In other states, local governments are choosing to reinstate mask policies, regardless of vaccination status.

In Washington State, an updated mandate requiring face masks in most public indoor settings for people ages five and older went into effect on Aug. 23. To find out about how people of color responded to the updated mandate, Global Citizen reached out to Washington residents about what masking up means to them.

For Seattle resident Jullio Tchouta, getting vaccinated against COVID-19 is the best way for him to protect his family. US officials have just authorized the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 through 11, but until more kids under 12 get the vaccine, wearing a mask in public can help keep his son safe.

“For my son, [getting the] vaccine is the best way to fight against COVID-19 at this point, and for the kids it’s the only way,” Tchouta said. “Wearing our mask, and coupled with that, vaccination, I’m sure that we’ll be protecting those kids, we’ll be protecting our neighbor.”

Ming Ming Tung-Edelman is the executive director of Refugee Artisan Initiative (RAI), a non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington, that employs refugee and immigrant artisans to craft handmade products. At the beginning of the pandemic, RAI began manufacturing face masks to donate to frontline workers and vulnerable populations.

Now, RAI sells face masks that feature social justice slogans and plastic windows to provide  improved visual communication while helping people protect themselves from COVID-19.

“We have made over 80,000 masks in the past year. I think wearing masks will be very critical in terms of keeping you, myself, and everyone else around you safe,” Tung-Edelman said. “Yes, it may not be something you want to do, but we all need to be responsible in terms of slowing down the transmission — and hopefully stopping the transmission — of COVID-19.”

In BIPOC communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, taking protection into their own hands can help protect themselves and their neighbors.

With free, effective, and available COVID-19 vaccine doses in the US, getting vaccinated is still the best way to protect yourself and the people around you from getting sick. But until more of the population gets vaccinated — and vaccine doses become widely accessible to low-income regions around the world — wearing a mask can offer more protection to slow down COVID-19 transmission and prevent breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people.

Global Citizen Life

Defeat Poverty

What Does Masking Up Against COVID-19 Mean to Communities of Color?

By Jaxx Artz