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Wisconsin Coronavirus: State rep calls on Green Bay Correctional inmates to make masks for healthcare workers, first responders

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – A state representative is calling on inmates at Green Bay Correctional Institute to begin making masks for healthcare workers and first responders during the coronavirus pandemic.

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According to Rep. David Steffen (R-Green Bay), “GBCI is notorious for its violence, crumbling facility, and overcrowding. Now, this maximum-security prison has the opportunity to transition from notorious to famous. Inmates at GBCI’s textile production program currently produce the clothing for Wisconsin’s 24,000 inmates. The inmates at GBCI have the skills and equipment to easily transition from clothing to life-saving masks for area hospitals, first responders and nursing home staff.”

Rep. Steffen goes on to say that “doctor-approved material and methods are readily available” at the prison “and so is the labor.”

Related: Kewaunee Artisan Center creates masks for healthcare workers

“These inmates are very capable of producing thousands of these items in a short amount of time. Let’s put them to work on something critically necessary for our community.”

Earlier this week, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, Chief Medical Officer of the Bureau of Communicable Diseases, said during a briefing with Governor Tony Evers that there is currently no research to show homemade masks are effective. Dr. Westergaard did add that, despite this, homemade masks are a possible alternative. The N95 masks or surgical masks are considered the best options at this time.

Related: Wisconsin asks FEMA for help in obtaining over 109,000 protective medical supplies

Rep. Steffen says he has submitted a formal request to Gov. Evers and the Department of Corrections Secretary Kevin Carr to begin the program, including detailed information on a readily-available source material, HEPA 3-ply cloth, and a manufacturing training video for inmates.

“This production could literally start next week. This isn’t some complicated process or supply chain issue,” says Rep. Steffen. “If authorized today, we could have these masks in the hands of area medical staff and first responders within 10 days. While this concept is unconventional, it’s immediately available. If there was ever a time for the government to be creative and resourceful, it’s now.”

Gov. Evers and Sec. Carr have yet to respond to this request.

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