SPRINGDALE -- The City Council on Friday agreed to buy masks for residents who need them.
Council members unanimously approved spending $41,705 to purchase 100,000 disposable masks to help stop the spread of covid-19.
At least 30 people from Springdale have died from covid-19 as of Thursday, a disproportionate number of them Hispanic and Marshallese. Northwest Arkansas has seen a spike in cases over the past several weeks, leading the state and setting records for new cases.
Washington County led the state with 122 new cases, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Friday. Benton County reported 68 more cases. Hutchinson said as of Friday, 43.3% of covid-19 hospitalized patients were in Northwest Arkansas.
Council members held a special meeting to approve the purchase. Wyman Morgan, the city's director of administration and finance, said they needed to vote to waive competitive bidding.
"In this case, we just didn't think we had the time to wait for bids to come in," he said. "We need to get these masks in the hands of people who need them."
City staff was expected to order the masks Friday afternoon from Westwood Ancillary Global Resources, which has an office in Springdale, said Colby Fulfer, assistant to the mayor.
Mayor Doug Sprouse said the masks should arrive at city hall the middle of next week. City staff will coordinate a dispersal plan, he said, noting they've already talked to leaders of various community organizations.
"And, of course, they'll be available at city hall," he said.
Morgan said officials are researching grants that might reimburse the city.
The food processing industry has come under fire in the last weeks as the virus spreads through workers in plants. Several of those companies are based in Springdale and operate processing plants in Northwest Arkansas.
Industries in Springdale have done a good job providing workers with personal protective equipment, Sprouse said.
"But it's the other 16 hours a day when they are not at work, when they are with their families and out in the community," he said. The city wants to make sure everyone has access to masks for their families.
A team of scientists from the federal Centers for Disease Control arrived in Northwest Arkansas last week.
"We invited the CDC to come and work with us to understand covid-19 and the Latinx community in Northwest Arkansas. We are working and meeting with them," said Danyelle McNeill, spokeswoman for the Arkansas Department of Health.
Jason McDonald, spokesman at the centers, said the agency sent a team of scientists to the area at the request of Arkansas health officials.
Bill Rogers, vice president for special projects and communication for the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, reported large companies are providing barriers between workers, require testing for covid-19 and paying employees who test positive and must quarantine.
"With this action, the employees can leave and go home and still be protected. This is great for people who might not have access to masks, or who can't afford them or even know where you can go to get a mask,"he said.
This action by the city dovetails with chamber efforts, Rogers said.
The chamber strongly encourages people to wear masks when out in public through its "Protect and Respect" campaign. The chamber has designed signs and posters for local businesses to put on their doors. The signs ask customers to wear masks or even makes masks a requirement. The posters are available in English and Spanish for download on the chamber's website.
"Wearing a mask is the right thing to do, for yourself and for others," Rogers said. "The virus is no respecter of anything."
To view a copy of the sign, visit nwaonline.com/springdalechambermask627/