Becoming a parent or guardian to just one child is a huge responsibility. Now imagine you’ve been entrusted with the health and safety of approximately 600 children during a constantly evolving global pandemic.
“It’s been a little challenging as we’ve added many steps to our work day over the past 15 months to ensure the safety of our kiddos and staff, even with minimal manning at times,” said Sondi Grace, Chief of the Child and Youth Services Flight. “The staff and I are hypersensitive to every cough, sneeze, etc. Is it an illness? Is it allergies? Could it be COVID? Of course kids are going to be kids so there’s snotty noses, minor colds, and teething among many other things, so we keep a close eye on them and follow strict exclusion and readmittance practices.”
Even with risk mitigation measures such as facial coverings and social distancing, there were a handful of positive COVID-19 cases which prompted all Child and Youth Programs and facilities to close in late July. The Child and Youth Programs flight in partnership with the base Public Health team led a swift COVID testing and contact tracing response to protect the children, staff and their families.
“The Child Development Center was doing everything possible to prevent the spread of COVID and because of that, the total number of positive cases was extremely low,” said Captain Parker Mullins, 366th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron Public Health Emergency Officer. “Think of COVID like a natural disaster, you can do everything possible to prepare for it, but it’s inevitable that you will face it at some point. My team and I were busy working around the clock for several days, contacting everyone who was potentially exposed, ensuring the families were educated, screened and quarantined, if necessary.”
Through long nights and perseverance, the Public Health and Youth Services teams were able to isolate the outbreak.
“My Airmen said it’s some of the most fulfilling work they’ve done through all of COVID-19 because they could see their personal efforts keeping everyone safe,” Mullins stated.
The decision to close all youth facilities and programs temporarily was made with the guidance of Public Health to minimize any health risks and mission impacts.
“Once everything had been sanitized and we were given the green light, we opened our doors as quickly as possible,” Grace said. “Our return could not have been possible without the help from so many organizations on base in addition to a few individuals like Capt Mullins; our Commander, Major Davis; and the Deputy Commander, Col Mays”
After an exhausting couple of weeks for all organizations and families involved, The Child Development Center and Youth Programs fully reopened August 6th.
“Pandemic or not, I still absolutely have the best job in the Air Force!” Grace exclaimed. “There’s nothing like nurturing and molding a young life into society. It brings me a lot of personal joy knowing we’re helping our littlest Gunfighters find their footing in the world.”