UT Extension Assists with Mask Distribution

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Effort Differs from County to County

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Often referred to as the University of Tennessee’s “front porch,” UT Extension has a new calling: to serve as a public health lifeline in many of the state’s rural and suburban communities.

As most of the state faces the task of reopening businesses and public spaces in a safe manner, the issue of how to provide for public safety has been among the top concern of government officials. In the most pure tradition of being a VOL, UT Extension has volunteered to be a resource to the state in this time of need.

With offices in each of the state’s 95 counties, UT Extension will assist local county health departments as needed in the distribution of facemasks across the state. The 50 county offices that are jointly staffed with Tennessee State University Extension will also participate based on local needs. The masks are being provided by the Governor’s Economic Recovery Group, led by Mark Ezell, Tennessee Commissioner for Tourist Development.

According to public health officials, social distancing and the wearing of facemasks in public places are among the main tools available to the public to fight the spread of the coronavirus at the center of the pandemic that causes COVID-19.

Take Rutherford County as an example. On Friday, May 8, officials with UT-TSU Extension began distribution of some 350 facemasks provided by the state through the Rutherford County Health Department. The masks are being given to vendors and shoppers at the Rutherford County Farmers Market. According to Anthony Tuggle, the county’s director of UT-TSU Extension, the farmers market is an important resource for the community as some shoppers use SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) benefits to purchase fresh, nutritious produce. “We’re a vital link for our community, but we want to ensure that our market is a safe gathering place. Shoppers and vendors are required to wear masks and to practice social distancing,” Tuggle confirmed.

Other county Extension offices will be involved in mask distribution in different ways and based on local needs to assist in public safety. The Governor’s Economic Recovery Group is supplying the first wave of masks, some 300,000, to all 95 of county and municipal health departments beginning this week. Additional masks will be distributed as they become available. 

“UT Extension is eager to help in the distribution of the facemasks,” said Robert Burns, dean of UT Extension. “Extension has a history of assisting in times of crisis and we are ready to step up to help stamp out this pandemic.” In the past Extension has helped government efforts to engage the public in times of national emergency or great need including efforts associated with World War II, the Great Depression and the electrification of rural areas of the state.

UT Extension’s volunteer spirit has been evident since the beginning of the pandemic. 4-H clubs and Family and Consumer Education (FCE) clubs, which are operated throughout the state in association with county Extension offices, have been supporting local medical personnel and first-responders by sewing  thousands of “Masks of Love.”

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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