A group of West Alabama social activists have organized a drive to donate disposable face masks to inmates in the Tuscaloosa County Jail. This comes just weeks after the group held a public protest outside the jail and created an online petition demanding Sheriff Ron Abernathy release information regarding the spread of COVID-19 among inmates.

This protest was in response to the Southern Poverty Law Center filing suit against Abernathy for allegedly violating the Alabama Open Records Act by withholding the data.

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The activists' primary concern was that the jail has reportedly only tested about 7 percent of the more than 6,000 inmates booked there since the pandemic reached Tuscaloosa in March.

Distribution of masks has been limited in the jail, and prior to the protest, each inmate was only given one disposal mask upon arrival. Abernathy has since changed the jail's policy and all inmates are now given a new mask each Tuesday and Friday.

The protest organizers said the change is a good start, but are calling on the community to gather as many disposable masks as possible to donate to the jail so they can be distributed even more regularly.

“We really hope that if we get enough masks together and give them to the jail, then the Sheriff and jail administration will expand their mask policy even more,” said Emily Altman, one of the organizers of the mask drive.

Mike Altman, the group's media spokesperson, told The Thread that their goal is to provide a new mask to each of the jail's now over 700 inmates each day, which would require nearly 5,000 masks a week.

“It's a big ask, but hopefully we'll start seeing community members that will be able to donate masks weekly or monthly," Altman said.

The organizers are receiving donations at the office of Grace Presbyterian Church at 113 Hargrove Road. A representative will be there to receive donations from 9-12 p.m. on Mondays, and 9-4 p.m. on Tuesdays-Fridays. The drive will run for as long as necessary.

Those who don't want to donate in person can also visit the organizers' Amazon wish list to purchase and ship masks to the collection site. For more information, visit the event's page on Facebook.

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