In the era of coronavirus, wearing a face mask has, for some, become a statement.
And as the economy opens further and the responsibility for curbing the spread of COVID-19 relies more heavily on individual actions, community leaders around Minnesota are urging people to wear masks as a way of protecting each other from the highly contagious disease.
Photographer Derek Montgomery talked to people around the city of Duluth about why they wear their masks.
Sanussi Bangoura works at the Menard’s store in west Duluth. The company requires employees and customers to be wearing masks if they want to work or shop at the store. However, he doesn’t limit wearing a mask to when he’s working at Menard’s.
“I live with my dad right now, and he wants to make sure I don’t get it and I don’t spread it to other people close to us,” Bangoura said.
“I frequently go up to Walmart and then I’ll wear a mask because first off I don’t know if I have it, I don’t think I have it and I don’t want to give it to anybody.”
"I choose to wear a mask because I understand my actions affect others around me," Megan Kress said via text message.
"Initially, the mask was about my co-workers,” she said. She works at Northern Waters Smokehaus in Duluth. “The only way to keep the deli running was to make sure those that were still working didn't get sick. If one of us got sick, the deli would have likely closed. Wearing a mask became essential for visits to the store.
"Now, in addition to the aforementioned, the mask is about making sure I am lessening my impact on those most vulnerable.
"It does not make me a sheep nor impede on my personal freedoms. Rather, it is the very least I can do for my immediate community to flatten the curve."
"I wear a mask for other people, not for myself," said Bridget Zuk, a teacher at Stella Maris Academy in Duluth.
"I want to protect the people I'm around when I'm out in the community if I'm asymptomatic and don't know it — and to help put others at ease if they are around me and might have underlying conditions.
"It's easy for me to put on a mask. It's lightweight and protects others. Seems like a no-brainer."
The city of Duluth recently launched the Duluth Youth Mask Project, which encourages kids to download a mask template on the city's website and create a mask they would want to wear. The city will choose a few mask designs that will be printed by a local company.
As part of the launch of the Duluth Youth Mask Project and as part of an effort to normalize wearing a mask, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson has been promoting the project on her Facebook page.
"I wear a mask because the process of dying from COVID-19 is horrifying — you are alone, in a sterile room, without anyone you love — or anyone who loves you," Larson said via email.
"Nobody to hold your hand or sing your favorite songs. No one to help you say goodbye or send you forth.
“I can't stop this pandemic. But if my wearing a mask helps prevent asymptomatic spread and prevents someone from going through that way of dying, I’ll do it. Every day, I’ll do it. As long as I have to, so people can stay with us in this life."
Shane Peterson works as the campus operations manager in facilities management at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
He has several reasons for wearing a mask: He has a newborn at home, a wife who is a registered nurse and he has seen the impact COVID-19 has had on the UMD community.
"Working in higher education and my wife being a nurse probably influences my rationale,” he said.
“I'm concerned about the toll the virus is having on education, health care, business, youth sports, etc.
"I'm first and foremost concerned for everyone's health, whether it be my colleagues, our campus, the broader community, or our health care providers.
“I'm also concerned about the economic hardship it is causing. It seems that no one is being spared economic hardship from the pandemic. If a mask can help slow the spread and protect others, it is the very least I can do for our community."
"I wear the mask to keep the germs from going through — and I don't want to sit at home all day," said Tatyana Sanders. She received some new masks during a free distribution event organized by the Duluth NAACP in May.
"Also — because I'm around a lot of people 24/7."
Seven-year-old Rylynn Maxim most often wears her mask when she has to travel around town with her parents for errands.
"I wear a mask to keep others and myself safe," Maxim said. Her mask is adorned with spectacled puppies, as she stands in front of a painted mural at Cascade Park in May.
Also: "These puppies are adorable and they have glasses!"
"It's the least I can do to be safe," said Lucy Tennis-Anderson.
"My mom made this mask for me during the beginning of quarantine. I had to leave college in New York on really short notice so we had to hole up in our house to self-quarantine.
“Me and my mom got really into sewing and she was like, 'We can sew our own masks because you can't really buy them super easily right now.' So we kinda went silly digging through fabric we had and putting together these masks."
The end of May brought some of the busiest days of the year for Jason Rozinka, a registered nurse in interventional radiology at Essentia Health. Medical facilities around the state were just preparing to open back up for elective procedures.
"As a nurse, my job is to help care for you, protect you and educate you," Rozinka said.
"I wear a mask to help slow the spread and protect those that need to be protected from COVID. I am personally at high risk working in a hospital then I want to keep those around me as safe as possible."
An assistant hockey coach at the College of St. Scholastica, Julianne Vasichek received a liver transplant five years ago. She takes anti-rejection drugs (pictured) that keep her body from attacking her transplant.
"Five years ago, I was very fortunate to receive the gift of life from a complete stranger and received a life-saving liver transplant," Vasichek said.
"At that time, wearing a mask and mitigating my own exposure to different viruses became really important because I have to take drugs for the rest of my life that suppress my immune system."
Like many people picking up masks at the NAACP's free face mask distribution event in May, Alex Lewis said she wanted to ensure she protected those closest to her in case she was infected and was asymptomatic.
She said she wears the masks because she wants to help protect people in her community as well as those close to her.
COVID-19 in Minnesota
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