Courtesy of Sheri Loomis
Sheri Loomis had made a lot of face masks as part of a volunteer effort to help Southeast residents stay safe when she decided to add a political flair to her sewing. She ordered campaign fabric and is making Trump and Biden face masks for sale. “People display political preferences all the time with signs, hats and bumper stickers,” she said.

National polls report that face-mask wearing has become a partisan issue. Local seamstress Sheri Loomis has a product she hopes will help bridge the divide – politically themed face coverings.

According to a Pew Research Center nationwide poll in June, 76% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning individuals said they wore a mask all or most of the time in the past month, compared to 53% of Republicans and those who lean Republican.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly refused to wear a mask despite recommendations from health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some political leaders have suggested the president’s behavior has helped fuel the divide.

“Unfortunately, this simple, life-saving practice has become part of a political debate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do,” Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander said during a recent Senate hearing.

Last month, Loomis ordered a yard each of “Joe Biden for President” and “Trump 2020” fabric. She said she plans to turn each yard into roughly 20 masks, which she will sell for $15 each.

“I thought by ordering the 2020 candidate fabric it might give incentive to people to wear a mask who otherwise might not have,” Loomis said.

She posted an announcement on Facebook soliciting preorders. The post sparked an acrimonious exchange over partisan mask wearing in Haines.

Rachelle Galinski was the first to preorder a mask from Loomis in the comments section of the post. She ordered two Trump masks for her husband.

“My first thought when I saw (the post) was it would be a good way to get my husband to wear a mask,” Galinski said. She said her husband is a big Trump supporter. He finds it uncomfortable to wear a mask, but is required to do so when traveling for work.

Galinski said she hadn’t realized mask wearing had become politicized until her order started getting negative attention.

In one comment addressed to Galinski, Kathleen Menke wrote, “Good … you can thank Trump for all he’s failed to do to prevent the pandemic every time you wear your masks.”

In an email to the CVN, Menke said she thinks wearing a Trump facemask is ironic given the way the president has managed pandemic response, including spreading disinformation about the severity of the initial outbreak. She added that she thinks political masks are a bad idea.

“Political masks only serve to ignite the culture wars. As do stories on them,” Menke wrote. “Wearing masks locally needs to be an expression of our community caring for each other.”

St. Michael and All Angels’ Episcopal Church vicar Jan Hotze expressed a similar sentiment.

In the Facebook comments section of Loomis’ post, Hotze wrote, “Unfortunately, we need political facemasks like we need a hole in our heads.”

In an interview, Hotze, who worked for Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium for over 20 years, including a decade as the health aide in Klukwan, said she wrote the comment because she thinks “politicizing health questions is not very productive or helpful. … (Mask wearing) is not a political thing. It’s a medical thing.”

Currently, the CDC recommends “people wear cloth face coverings in public settings when around people outside of their household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.” According to the CDC, mask wearing doesn’t necessarily protect the wearer, but it does reduce the chance of the wearer transmitting the virus to others.

Galinski said she is doing her best to follow this health guidance.

“I support Trump, and I’m all about wearing a mask,” Galinski said. She works at the school. “I will do anything to keep the people around me and the children I work with safe.”

Gallinski said it’s not always easy to keep up with constantly changing guidance. “The rules and the guidelines have changed so much and changed so rapidly, she said. When COVID-19 first appeared in the U.S., the recommendation was to conserve the limited supply of masks for first responders.

Loomis said she isn’t concerned about the masks adding to political strife in a town notorious for divisive politics.

“People display political preferences all the time with signs, hats and bumper stickers. … It’s only problematic when people get disrespectful,” she said.

Loomis said she has noticed the same political trends in mask wearing in Haines that Pew observed in its national poll. By enticing someone to wear a mask who ordinarily might not, “I’m trying to help the community be safer,” she said.

Hotze said she appreciates Loomis’ reasoning. “I told Sheri that was something I hadn’t considered,” Hotze said.

At present, the Trump 2020 masks are outselling the Biden masks, by far. Loomis said she’s had nine preorders for Trump masks and none for the Biden ones.

For the pluralistic voters out there, one Facebook user suggested Loomis do a half-Biden, half-Trump mask.

“I got a kick out of that,” Loomis said, adding that it would be feasible in a snug-fit style.

Loomis said she plans to make Biden and Trump masks until the fabric runs out. If there’s a particularly high demand, she may order more.

This isn’t Loomis’ first foray into the world of mask making. This spring, she organized a mask-making group for Southeast Alaska. Over the course of six weeks, the group distributed more than 6,000 masks, free of charge, in communities including Haines, Sitka, Wrangell, Juneau and Petersburg. In Haines alone, Loomis and other seamstresses produced 1,100 masks.

After the effort, Loomis took a break from full-time mask making. She’s now making masks on an individual basis, taking pattern requests and charging. Prices range from $10 to $15, depending on fabric costs. Those interested can reach Loomis at 766-2854, or via text at 314-0854.