As the smoke rolled in over the Columbia River Gorge this weekend, residents in West Klickitat County found help had arrived in the form of KN95 masks, thanks to coordination by community leaders.

Debi Budnick, Community Health and Outreach Coordinator with Skyline Health, had begun looking into the availability of masks by Friday in an effort to prepare the public for the smoke cover soon to come, looming over the region from ongoing wildfires. By Saturday, Budnick said, Klickitat County Emergency Operations Center had sent 500 KN95 masks to Skyline Hospital, many of which were then distributed across the community.

“Because of COVID restrictions, we were not able to have the general public come into our facility to pick these up. Additionally, we wanted to make sure our most vulnerable and housing compromised community members received a mask. To complicate things further, since it was a Saturday most public service offices were closed,” Budnick told Columbia Gorge News in an email.

Coordinating with Budnick, the Bingen-White Salmon Police Department dispatched an officer to distribute a case of 200 KN95 masks to destinations across town, including the trailer parks, Rhine Village, and the shelter and a nearby shelter.

Another 50 masks each went to North Shore Medical Group, Bingen Food Bank, Dickey Farms, and Riggleman’s Fruit, Budnick said.

50 of the masks remain, which they plan to save for high-risk individuals visiting the Emergency Room or clinic.

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