The Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division, Keyport launched “Operation Sewcial Distancing” Apr. 7 to craft cloth face masks in order to increase the levels of protection for its workforce during the Coronavirus pandemic.
NUWC Keyport’s workforce, already using its additive manufacturing technology to create face shields for the local medical community, created a grassroots effort to manufacture face masks until the command is able to procure professionally-made masks.
Ginny Murphy, Integrated Warfare Systems Engineering Division Head, took point on the project, finding a way to thread the needle between keeping NUWC Keyport’s workflow moving while also identifying volunteers who would work on Operation Sewcial Distancing once it was clear a recommendation to wear face masks was likely to come from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“Our end goal is to produce at least 2,000 masks,” Murphy said. “So far we have delivered 1,065 masks to Keyport's safety office as of Apr. 16, and anticipate having most of the 2,000 delivered by Apr. 24.”
Murphy had almost 50 volunteers with sewing machines step up. The command provided the pattern and the material, as well as authorized the volunteers to manufacture the masks during normal working hours. Murphy said it is important that NUWC Keyport find creative ways to provide for its workforce due to the shortage of protective face masks that is being felt nationwide.
“Our teammates are really excited to be helping out by making masks to provide to the mission essential employees,” Murphy said. “I think it's important because purchasing masks from external sources has proven to be extremely difficult due to the high demand right now.”
NUWC Keyport found vendors from which professionally-made face masks have been ordered, but the shipping dates were delayed for weeks due to current high demand. Capt. Jon H. Moretty, NUWC Keyport’s commanding officer, pushed for action instead of waiting for the back-ordered face masks to arrive when his team had an innovative idea that would provide further protection to his workforce in a timelier manner.
“The safety and health of NUWC Keyport’s workforce is my primary responsibility,” Moretty said. “My team keeps charging forward, finding innovative ways to ensure the workflow is minimally impacted by the pandemic. One of the team’s creative ideas was a grassroots effort to produce facemasks locally. I whole-heartedly support this initiative. The greater protection I can afford my workforce, the more they are at ease working during the COVID crisis. Providing my team additional protection allows them to focus on supporting the warfighters who are forward deployed, at sea, standing the watch on the tip of the spear.”
Murphy said the response to Operation Sewcial Distancing has brought out the best in her fellow NUWC Keyport employees.
“I have been totally inspired by the number of Keyporters that have stepped up to assist in this effort,” Murphy said. “I am pleasantly surprised at how fast we were able to mobilize and get these masks finished and to our teammates. Operation Sewcial Distance was just an idea on Friday, Apr. 3, and yet Keyport was able to utilize all of our resources to have over 1,000 masks made in less than 2 weeks. That is pretty phenomenal!”
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