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Case Study: Covid Action Cowichan

Case Study

Covid Action Cowichan

and the Mask the Valley campaign

Selling Covid Compliance

Covid Action Cowichan launched as a Facebook group on March 27, 2020. Volunteer Cowichan was the sponsoring organization. Recognizing the severity of the newly declared pandemic, and the need for clear and effective messaging, a good mind offered our services to help protect the health of the region.

Our mission was to “sell” the best information about Covid19 prevention to the population of the Cowichan Valley. Covid Action Cowichan aimed to become the most respected local channel for reliable information about Covid19. (click to read more)

A good mind’s role in Covid Action Cowichan was much more than supportive. Working alongside Volunteer Cowichan, we were a prime mover in this project and its campaigns. A good mind outlined a vision for success against the pandemic and set out to recruit a management team to focus that vision.

The management team studied news articles and amplified the most compelling advice and information. We educated members regarding causes and best practices for prevention, training them to become effective advocates in the community for Covid safe behaviours.

Competitors were Ignorance, Misinformation, Time, and the Exponential Growth of the virus. Ultimately, diligent effort helped keep ignorance at bay and case counts amongst the lowest in the province and within the Island Health Region

The challenge we faced was that there was no consensus at that time as to what the best practices should be. As that discussion evolved, our hard and fast rule was that all information presented had to be backed by a peer-reviewed scientific study.

We wrote a series of planning documents to guide our progress and govern our discussions. These documents detailed strategies for mask production, deployment, communications, education, and community acceptance of masking.

The net result was that we:

  • Produced and distributed 15,000 volunteer-made fabric masks
  • Recruited 1,359 members in a community of 83,000
  • Generated educational information about mask-making, proper mask wearing, handling, and storage
  • Campaigned for mask acceptance
    • #MaskingIsAnActOfLove campaign memes
  • As such we have become the most valued local channel, and our region has been one of the safest in BC throughout the pandemic.

The Plan

In the first weeks of the pandemic there was no national or international consensus regarding the primary routes of transmission for the virus among the health establishment.

Covid Action Cowichan’s leadership team shared and pored over the articles and the studies they pointed to. Increasingly, these revealed evidence that masks would become an essential tool in the Covid toolkit and that masking should be universal. (click to read more)

Based on our critical analysis of the situation, on April 27, 2020, we declared an intention to make 83,000 fabric masks through our Facebook Group, one for every member of the community.

We spent the first month of the pandemic building teams while making surgical caps and developing a distribution network that would be used in the mask-making process, as well as building supply chains to source fabric which at that time was difficult to buy. Our model was a textiles startup.

We operated on the view that masks had shown value in population level contexts. There was ample empirical evidence that masks were clearly beneficial. We needed to do and say something that would capture the hearts and imaginations of our community and which might inspire other communities. It was important to get mask wearing established early in the community, considering the exponential rate of growth of Covid19 once established. 

A good mind authored a multi-page strategy document “The Mask Manifesto” that outlined a variety of strategies for making and equally important, popularizing masks and mask-wearing. 

It was clear that the fractured and often contradictory information being presented was alienating and frustrating to those who wanted to know best practices in order to stay safe. Our team knew it was critical to present strong, unambiguous recommendations about purpose, construction, materials, and handling to ease the initial discomfort of the idea of masks. 

We devised a communications strategy of continuous, relentless, high-quality information deployment. The Covid Action Cowichan management team had private discussions every day about the newest articles and research. 

We debated the best articles to share, reaching out to experts as necessary to vet and shape the information we presented in the group.


Covid Action Cowichan declared a goal to make 83,000 fabric masks, launching the Mask The Valley campaign. The number was the minimum needed to cover the entire population. At that time, there were still widespread PPE shortages.

It’s also a strong story lead and we had a good deal of excellent media from this. We used that notoriety to drive local dialogue in favour of masking, distancing, hygiene, and isolation. We relentlessly reshared our posts on all relevant local social media channels. Given our single-mindedness and unified front, we were able to provide a large cohort of our neighbours with a safe place for dialogue about social responsibility. (click to read more)

A good mind designed clear guidelines and messaging to make sure that the masks made locally were of the highest possible standard. We realized many masks would be made by new stitchers who were developing their skills as well as by stitching experts.  This was complicated by the inability to provide any hands-on teaching. 

We knew that it was critical that the entire community be reached and that all had equal access to masks. Cowichan Valley is home to one of the largest and more impoverished First Nations in British Columbia. Poverty is widespread in the region in all parts of the community, and racism is as well. 

We invited a respected elder to our leadership team, which was considered a priority and actively recruited elected leaders in Cowichan Tribes to the group, giving them unrestricted posting privileges. We are proud to say that our membership reflects a greater than statistical representation from Cowichan Tribes and the other local First Nations. This has been critical to the penetration of the local market (as it were) with the message of the value of masking, ventilation, and distancing, and protecting generations of Knowledge Keepers.

A good mind provided the strategy, branding, messaging, information graphics, memes, posters, publicity, and defined information verification methods for articles to be posted. We recruited a leadership team that built processes and supply chains that any startup would be proud of. 

Our influential meme campaign #MaskingIsAnActOfLove had 136 iterations featuring nearly 200 Cowichan Valley residents. These included everyone from elected politicians to toddlers. Individual memes were viewed by as many 17,000 people.

Our authority has been so complete that in 13 months we have only had to delete a handful of comments for trolling. The first was in November 2020.


Covid Action Cowichan led local stitchers in a masking advocacy and quality mask making project.

Mask The Valley volunteers made 15,000 compliant masks and distributed them into the community. We are confident that our membership at large has made the balance of 83,000 and then some.

Our #MaskingIsAnActOfLove campaign featured nearly 200 people on 135 memes that were separately shared online, one a day before being compiled into the poster, which remains in many store windows around town and in the private collections of those shown in it. The campaign and poster are a virtual demonstration in favour of masking.

For a long time we were able to maintain a nearly nil case count locally. This has changed, but we are resolute in our desire to protect our community and to keep cases as low as possible. Many of our volunteers have returned to mask making, although they are doing this independently now.

We measure our effectiveness by the ongoing engagement and of our members, which represent all age groups in relatively even numbers. We continue to gain members regularly and have nearly 1,400 members of which nearly 900 are currently active (September 14, 2021). They are engaged and actively strategize around supporting the goals of ending the pandemic and keeping the community well.

Even with the unfortunate current increase in local infections, Island Health still has the best record in BC.

We are confident that our efforts have made a significant contribution locally and within the province.

More can be heard about the Mask the Valley project on an interview we did with Gregor Craigie on CBC Radio’s On the Island.

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