Public mask distribution ramping up, but faster for some communities than others

NOW: Public mask distribution ramping up, but faster for some communities than others

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Several communities aim to move ahead with public mask distribution efforts similar to how the city of Milwaukee handed out one million masks earlier this month, but obtaining the masks needed to do that is a slower process for some compared to others.

"It's really important, given the highly contagious nature of omicron, for us all to be doubling down on our mask-wearing," Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said during a media briefing on Jan. 20.

Because of the urgency to get people high-quality respirators like N95 and KN95 masks, several communities have put in requests to receive orders of masks from the state stockpile.

Kenosha County Health Director Dr. Jennifer Freiheit told CBS 58 the county ordered 400,000 masks two weeks ago, with the county receiving 100,000 masks from that order on Jan. 19.

"We are already distributing them to many agencies today, including all of the public libraries and senior centers," Dr. Freiheit said. "We will be alerting the general public tomorrow about where they can pick up masks.”

Other communities are also expected to begin distribution soon. Greenfield, Wauwatosa and Hales Corners officials told CBS 58 they expect to receive their orders in the coming days, but are still discussing plans for distribution once those masks arrive.

But officials from Franklin, Racine and Greendale told CBS 58 their orders remain up in the air, they have not heard back from DHS or are still patiently waiting. Racine said its order is smaller as its distribution plan is focused on getting masks to health care settings and to first responders, rather than a wider distribution to the public.

"State supplies are somewhat limited, so we want to make sure that we are prioritizing distribution of those masks to organizations and to settings where there may be difficulty sourcing those masks otherwise," Sec. Timberlake said.

Another issue that may slow down distribution is DHS fine tuning some orders based off of supply and demand.

"Some ordered sort of exactly what they thought they would need, others ordered more," Timberlake said. "And so we did have to make some adjustments in what some of the requests were as compared to what we could supply, so that we could be fair."

DHS added it has more N95 than KN95 masks in its stockpile and is working to build that supply up, as well as the number of youth and child size masks.

Requests for comment about mask orders for other communities were not immediately returned to CBS 58.

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