'Protecting Neighbors'

Part of the aim of Mask Up Fort Wayne!, a public group on Facebook, is to promote businesses that require face coverings for staff and customers.

A new Facebook group is helping members of the Fort Wayne community identify businesses that are going beyond state requirements to protect customers and employees from the spread of COVID-19.

Mask Up Fort Wayne!, a public group started by two public school teachers, is promoting local businesses that require masks and other public safety measures inside their establishments.

“We just really wanted to have a community of people that all prioritize wearing masks since we know that’s something we can do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and since we don’t have a mask mandate,” Sarah Kleber, one of the group’s creators, said.

Residents of Marion, LaGrange, Elkhart and St. Joseph counties have been required to wear face coverings in public places amid recent spikes in virus cases. In Allen County and other areas of the state, wearing masks is merely a recommendation.

On July 2, WANE, NewsChannel 15, KPC Media Group’s news partner, published a poll that found only 49% of the 11,000 residents who responded chose to wear a mask.

“That’s something we want to drive up as much as we can while protecting our neighbors and supporting local businesses,” Kleber said.

Kleber created the Mask Up Fort Wayne! group with the help of her aunt, Linda Ann Shafer, and friend Michelle Marqueling — who creates graphic art for the page — on July 1. In just less than a week, more than 300 members had joined.

“I think a lot of people have the same concerns,” Shafer said. “We’re seeing a lot of things in the news of people saying, ‘I don’t want to wear a mask, I’m not going to go anywhere I’m required to wear a mask,’ but I think there are just as many if not more people who feel safer with a mask.”

All group members are encouraged to promote businesses that ask customers to wear masks inside their buildings. That doesn’t exclude chains like Menards and Costco where all employees and customers are required to cover their faces.

Both Kleber and Shafer said many of the businesses they have spotlighted are ones they have personally patronized during the pandemic. They also continue to call area businesses to ask about their safety considerations.

Several kudos had been shared by Mask Up Fort Wayne! group members through July 7:

• “The Friendly Fox has delicious food and drinks perfect for summer! All staff wear masks and customers that want to come inside must wear a mask. Only patio seating is available for dine in and carry out is encouraged!”

• “Bird+Cleaver require patrons to wear masks when waiting for tables and when entering the building to use the restroom.”

• “Fancy & Staple is a very fun local shop on Broadway that reopens on the 14th! They have been closed for an extended period of time to ensure that they are prepared to safely reopen and will be requiring masks!”

• “Honey Plant is a truly wonderful houseplant shop on Wells that has opened with thorough precautions, requiring masks and limiting the number of people that can be in the store at a time to allow for proper distancing.”

• “D’tails is doing a fabulous job grooming dogs with the ultimate in safety precautions. Dogs are dropped at the door and everyone must wear a mask.”

“There are a lot of people who want to go somewhere — the grocery store, the hardware store, a restaurant — but they want to make sure they are in an environment where the customers and the employees are both wearing masks,” Shafer said.

Mask Up Fort Wayne!’s creators noted that the group will not publish any negative posts about businesses not taking certain precautions to protect customers from COVID-19.

“I think that it’s really a message everyone can get on board with — we just need to make sure we talk about it in a positive way,” Kleber said.

As public school teachers, Kleber and Shafer are especially concerned about spikes in COVID-19 cases as school districts look toward reopening buildings in the fall. Shafer teaches at Weisser Park Elementary School in the Fort Wayne Community Schools district. Kleber, a Fort Wayne native, teaches seventh- and eighth-grade science, as well as honors biology, at Belzer Middle School in the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township in Indianapolis.

“If we are going to be reopening — which it seems like we are — we really need to get all of these families that are going to be having their kids come to school on board with wearing masks,” Kleber said.

State officials announced July 1 that Indiana would take a half-step in its reopening plan just shy of a full reopening originally scheduled for July 4. In Stage 4.5 of the Back on Track Indiana plan, which is set to expire July 17, face coverings are “highly recommended” but not required. Nevertheless, officials are promoting masks as a way to stop asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers from transmitting the virus through respiratory droplets they might expel while breathing, talking, laughing, coughing or sneezing.

Holcomb and Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box introduced a statewide web campaign July 1 to promote the use of face masks in public settings. The #MaskUpHoosiers initiative encourages people to wear a mask in situations where they can’t guarantee 6 feet of distance between themselves and others.

“This is one thing we know works is to mask up,” Holcomb said in a July 1 news conference. “It may be inconvenient, but it’s very important, and it works, and this is one of the tools that we know can limit the spread. It’s just factual. Inconvenient or not, this can save lives, this can save our health care network’s capacity to treat people.”

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