OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
A 2nd Weather Squadron Airman stationed in Australia is crafting hope in her local community in the midst of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff Sgt. Kalynn Mitchell, a 2nd WS solar analyst at Learmonth Solar Observatory in Exmouth, Western Australia, is using her sewing machine and fabric from a local hardware store to create face masks for medical workers and others at risk in the community.
“I think the world needs hope,” said Capt. Ustem Nu, 2nd WS Detachment 1 commander. “Every day we see the news about more and more people dying or people not caring. It can be overwhelming and disheartening at times. What Staff Sgt. Mitchell is doing, whether she realizes it or not, is giving hope to people.”
Although the masks won’t perform at the same level as N95 respirator masks, the ones used by healthcare workers, they will still provide some benefit.
“Even surgical masks don’t perform to the same level as N95s,” Mitchell said. “With the decline of readily available resources, I am trying to figure out different outside-the-box solutions. So basically, the way it will work is there will be soft fabric on the inside of the mask, then the antimicrobial fabric followed by a third layer of fabric. This is to enhance or at least maximize the amount of filtration the mask does since this virus is water droplet based.”
Mitchell added, “The intent is for the mask to go to the frontline nurses and those at most risk of being exposed. I have been in contact with a few different medical clinics throughout Western Australia. We will take care of this town first with our local hospital, the elderly home as well as the Australian Federal Police.”
Det 1 staff began deep cleaning and sanitizing procedures for the observatory and military housing in mid-February. Mitchell noticed that instead of sponges and rags, the cloth purchased for cleaning was antimicrobial.
“I was inspired after hearing about the countless shortages of medical equipment across the region,” Mitchell said. “Medical professionals have been asked to reuse their own personal protective equipment and others have completely run out of masks all together, I think that’s unacceptable especially with my Dad being a respiratory therapist. I wanted to help in any way that I could.”
Mitchell went to the local hardware where the cloth came from and purchased additional rolls on her own. So far, she has produced 110 face masks.
“The (the healthcare workers’) reaction has been one of surprise,” Mitchell said. “They don’t ever expect things like this to happen. They are very appreciative. As far as how they are being used, from what I was told they are used when they admit new patients.”
Mitchell followed guides found online to put the face masks together. This is not the first time she has put her craft skills to work.
“I actually don’t sew as much as I used to,” Mitchell said. “The last thing I sewed was kangaroo pouches to help the recovering wildlife affected by the Australian forest fires. And just like then, it was like, what can I do to help? I want to help. I need to help.”
Members of Det 1 are supporting Mitchell’s efforts, purchasing materials so that she can keep producing masks.
The detachment has a long history of community involvement with Exmouth, a town of about 2,500. Even under social isolation conditions, Det 1 has found ways to stay connected.
“Our det chief does an online video trivia night with members of the community,” Nu said. “This was previously done in person and was a great social event in town. With the new restrictions in place, he decided to bring the trivia to everyone virtually and keep those connections strong.”
Mitchell hopes that people will find their own ways to assist their communities.
“These are hard times, but there is light at the end of this tunnel,” Mitchell said. “I didn’t start doing this for recognition or a bullet, I started doing this because I want to help. You have to be the change you want to see in the world, and kindness goes a long way. In my humble opinion, I think we as a world, and to drill down even more, as an Air Force, we will make it out of this better and more resilient. It won’t be easy, but together we are unstoppable.”