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Thousands of free masks and hand sanitizer will be given out in Travis County’s Covid-19 hot spots

Friday, September 4, 2020 by Andy Jechow, KUT

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Tens of thousands of face masks and bottles of hand sanitizer will be distributed for free in coronavirus hot spots in the Austin area, public health officials announced Wednesday.

The distribution events, the first of which is scheduled for Friday, will be spread over the next several weeks in a campaign organized by Austin Public Health, CommUnityCare and Central Health.

Central Health, Travis County’s health care agency, is committed to getting 100,000 masks and 25,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to distribute, program director Elizabeth Marrero said at a news conference. HEB has donated 10,000 bottles of hand sanitizer.

Marrero said the distributions will be targeted in locations that have the highest Covid-19 testing and positivity rates. Numbers released last week show Latinos are four times more likely to test positive than white Austinites at APH testing sites, even though Latinos represent just over a third of the population.

“Our communities of color have faced decades of disparities, both socially and with health outcomes,” said Stephanie Hayden, director of Austin Public Health, noting it has been six months since Austin-Travis County identified its first confirmed coronavirus case. “While we cannot correct these overnight, Covid-19 has allowed the greater community to understand these disproportionate impacts.”

There are five distribution events in September on the schedule, which will be updated as more events are announced. The first distribution will take place Friday from 9-11 a.m. at the Austin Public Library’s Ruiz branch at 1600 Grove Blvd.

Patients will also be able to get free personal protective equipment kits containing masks and hand sanitizer during their scheduled visits at 20 CommUnityCare clinics, starting in eastern Travis County.

Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County’s interim health authority, said it’s imperative that the community “stay the course” and follow Covid-19 safety guidelines even as cases and hospitalizations continue to decline.

“When you let your guard down, that bounce happens – meaning a second surge of cases,” he said, “so we have to continue the practices that got us to this stage.”

Ofelia and Tim Zapata were introduced at the end of the news conference to share their experience with Covid-19. Tim said he got the virus at the same time as his wife.

“Let me tell you, this virus brings you down to your knees,” he said, urging Austinites to take it seriously.

“We followed all the rules,” Ofelia said. “Still, the virus hit us.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT.

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