Published in UNC Health and UNC School of Medicine Newsroom – June 11, 2020 by Jamie Williams

Motivated by the increasing incidence of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina and the CDC’s modified recommendation for individuals to wear protective face coverings, Dr. Kathleen Marulanda (PGY-5, Dept. of Surgery) quickly acknowledged the challenge this would pose for some in the community, particularly African American men.

Since its onset, COVID-19 has disproportionately afflicted underrepresented communities, and now accounts for the deaths of 1 in every 2,000 Black lives in this country. Yet, despite the importance of covering one’s face to mitigate the spread of disease, especially for an already vulnerable population, the repercussions associated with wearing simple face coverings, like scarves, in public are much too high for some. Society does not permit all people the same luxuries. Recognizing this reality, Dr. Marulanda grew concerned that even with recommendations in place, access to real masks would be limited for some populations and African American men, in particular, would not be able to wear scarves as face coverings without potentially facing significant perceptions or repercussions.

Dr. Kathleen Marulanda, Sophia McFarlane, and Dr. Kimberly Nichols

Thus, Dr. Marulanda was moved to action to provide real face masks for African American men, but she was unsure of how to execute this plan. As the current President of the UNC Resident Diversity Initiative (RDI), she was championed by the faculty advisor for RDI, Dr. Kimberley Nichols (Associate Professor, Anesthesiology), to achieve her mission. Dr. Nichols introduced her to Sophia McFarlane (MS-1, UNC SOM), co-President of the UNC chapter of the Student National Medical Association (SNMA), who also was interested in facilitating this initiative. Together, Sophia and Dr. Marulanda collaborated and were able to accrue 165 masks that were graciously hand-sewn and donated by a local family physician, church members from a parish in Charlotte, NC, and even a woman and her mother who lived almost 600 miles away in Hartford, Connecticut. All masks were donated to the Interfaith Council (IFC) Community House (http://www.ifcweb.org/services/community-house), a residential facility for homeless men in Chapel Hill. According to the administrative personnel at IFC, the donation could not have come at a better time as masks were in short supply, and the shelter had been struggling to find more for the community it serves.

Because of the collaboration of UNC RDI and UNC SNMA, as well as the generosity of the black and brown communities, hopefully, 165 lives will be a little safer than they otherwise might have been in a less-than-safe world.