'Mask Oakland' Helping City's Most Vulnerable Breathe Easier

Health experts advise limiting time outdoors and seeking shelter while smoke from North Bay fires hangs in the air—suggestions that leaves unhoused residents with few options. To fill that gap, volunteers from Mask Oakland are helping the city's most vulnerable avoid unhealthy air.

Although blazes in Napa and Sonoma are partially contained, the same winds that drove the devastation continue to direct smoke and ash into the Bay Area.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers air with up to 50 particles per million of 2.5 microns safe, but ratings above 150 ppm are considered unhealthy for all groups. 

Last Thursday, Oakland's air quality reached 152 particles per million, which is when activists Redwoods and Cassandra Williams created Mask Oakland.

Photo: Mask Oakland/Facebook

Particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller can cross from the lungs into the bloodstream, making them particularly unhealthy. Ash and soot from wine country fires includes brush and forests, as well as materials used to build homes, cars and other structures.

Rather than wait for city or national organizations to address the problem, Redwoods and Williams formed their ad hoc relief organization on Thursday night. The next morning, they were distributing masks to homeless camps around the city.

The two recruited friends to purchase N95 respirator masks, which block 95% of airborne particles. As supplies began to sell out, the duo solicited online and received donations from as far away as New York, where one concerned individual sent 250 masks overnight to Oakland.

So far, Mask Oakland has distributed more than 2,000 N95 respirator masks to encampments, housebound seniors, and immuno-compromised individuals in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Francisco. Redwoods and Williams have recruited a core group to maintain and distribute donations, with others volunteering as they can.

Impact HUB Oakland has given the pair space in their downtown office to operate out of for the week. Mask Oakland will be working from 2pm to 6pm today and tomorrow, and intends to use the space both as a hub for directing volunteers and donations.

Masks are also available for purchase; for $3, donors will receive one, and Mask Oakland will give another to someone else in need.

To contribute, message Mask Oakland via Facebook, donate via Venmo by sending contributions to @MaskOakland, or visit them this week week at Impact HUB, 2323 Broadway, from 2-6pm.

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Mask oakland helping city s most vulnerable breathe easier