This story has been updated to reflect the number of masks being distributed by the Milwaukee Health Department.
The Milwaukee Health Department is making changes in its plan to distribute free masks to residents because of a lower-than-expected demand for face coverings.
Under the retooled plan, masks will be distributed to more than 30 convenience stores, churches and shelters. The goal, officials say, is to put more masks in places where people gather.
About 110,000 reusable masks are available to the general public for free. NNS previously reported that Wave 2 of the city’s mask distribution plan would occur in late August and would provide 500,000 reusable masks.
Despite demand being lower than expected, the city still plans to produce 500,000 masks.
There are currently 82,000 masks waiting to be distributed, and another 36,000 are on the way in the short term, said Marquayla Ellison, owner of Ellastic Designs.
Ellison was subcontracted to assist in distributing masks to pick-up sites and businesses.
The sites include places like ABC Liquors, which has multiple locations on the North Side.
Ellison said it was important to target “quicker spots” like ABC Liquors because people often think they can enter an establishment without a mask because they expect fast service.
“We’re trying to meet them where they are,” Ellison said. “We’re trying to put masks in locations where people can walk to them.”
The free masks are distributed in packets, which contain two masks.
Mask distribution was previously focused at Milwaukee Fire Department, Milwaukee Public Library and Milwaukee Health Department locations around the city.
Mike Kryshak, owner of Rebel Converting and a driving force in the #MaskUpMKE initiative, said he’s seen demand drop for disposable masks as well.
Earlier in the pandemic, around 30,000 masks were distributed on Milwaukee County Transit System buses each week. Kryshak said that number is now somewhere from 500 to 700 per week.
While Ellison said that the lower numbers might be because people are unaware that masks are available, Kryshak said the answer might be oversaturation.
“Masks have flooded the marketplace,” Kryshak said.
#MaskUpMKE has turned to other means to distribute masks, including giving disposable masks to officers from the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office to distribute. There’s also been an effort to get more masks into the prison system.
Where to find masks
Anyone interested in finding masks near them can find a complete list of locations distributing masks at city.milwaukee.gov/masks.
NNS reporters also gathered a list of where to buy locally made masks if you’re looking to show some local business love when masking up.