By now, we know: masks matter, especially in schools. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cloth masks in schools can help slow the spread of the coronavirus, along with other mitigation strategies like hand-washing, social distancing, and regular cleansing and disinfecting of frequently-touched surfaces in schools and buses.
But keeping students, teachers, and staff safe requires adequate resources. A typical school district with about 3,700 students needs about $1.8 million to reopen, according to some estimates. That covers cleaning, extra staff, and masks. But many schools serving high percentages of low-income children have had to scramble for essential supplies. Schools in high-poverty districts are historically underfunded, and families can’t make up the difference. Too often, teachers use their own resources to provide basics for America’s most vulnerable children.
That’s why United Way Worldwide partnered with the Business Roundtable and the CDC Foundation in late 2020 to launch America’s Mask Challenge, an effort to underwrite and deliver 200 million washable face masks to every student, teacher, and staff member in America’s 56,000 most under-resourced schools. HanesBrands, the first company to join the Challenge, is producing the masks and coordinating with United Way on delivery. Hanes donated 25 million masks to the Challenge, and is delivering directly to schools. Other corporate leaders, like Progressive Insurance, Nasdaq, Union Pacific and Vistra Corp., have stepped, too up. And leading education organizations, like the National School Boards Association, AFT (American Federation of Teachers) and NEA (National Education Association), have endorsed America's Mask Challenge.
So far, we’ve gotten almost 26 million masks to 158 school districts from across 45 states and Puerto Rico. This represents more than 5.2 million people who have received five reusable masks to support their safe return to the classroom. Some 126 local Uniited Ways have helped fuel the disribution as well. In the words of one North Carolina school leader, the delivery of 97,500 masks in January was “a dream come true." Said Ryan O'Donnell, with Austin's schools, “These masks are so essential for our students, staff, and families, so we plan to put them to good use. Support from the community like this is what keeps a school district afloat.”