SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — A Sioux Falls man was just doing a favor for a neighbor, but one small request turned into thousands from all over the country.

Mitchell Olson received a message from his neighbor who is a nurse asking him to make five mask straps to alleviate the pressure on her ears from hours of wearing surgical masks. Happy to help, he took to the 3D printer that was gifted to his husband, Mark Schmidt, for Christmas and turned out five mask straps.

Olson could not anticipate the requests that came flooding in overnight. In just a matter of hours, he received requests for 5,000 of his 3D printed mask straps.

“It was pretty cool to see that we could use the 3D printer to do something really great for people,” Olson told the Argus Leader.

People come and go to pick up the mask straps from a small tub that sits on Olson and Schmidt’s front porch. Olson also makes daily trips to the post office to ship out the straps to people all over the country.

One request came from a hotel in Florida that is housing first responders who are there to work during the pandemic. Another request came from South Dakota nurses who are serving in New York City, one of the epicenters for the coronavirus pandemic.

But the requests for mask straps have turned into something more — requests for nasal testing swabs used in COVID-19 testing.

The University of Nebraska Medical Center reached out to Olson with a 3D print design for the testing swabs made by Dr. Jesse Cox, who saw the need for more testing swabs at the hospital.

“The benefits of 3D printing are that it’s so flexible in that it can serve as a temporizing measure while the more traditional manufactures can ramp up their capacity to meet demand,” Cox said.

The nasopharyngeal swabs are used to reach the back of the nose and are critical in the fight against the coronavirus. The health system is now performing nearly 500 of these tests per day and is expecting to see an increase in testing in the coming weeks, Cox said.

The same 3D printer that Olson used to make Easter egg designs just days before is now creating the swabs used in COVID-19 testing.

The machine runs around the clock, producing 50 swabs at a time. Every 3.5 hours, an alarm sounds signifying Mark or Mitchell to remove the freshly printed testing swabs. In the middle of the night, they will wake to the sound of the alarm to clean off the machine and program it to print more.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed by community members. To help cover the material and shipping costs, Olson and Schmidt received a $2,500 grant from Seeds of Change, a non-profit created by POET. The couple have also received messages from people asking what they could do to help. Friends and strangers have donated supplies through an Amazon wish list.

To Mitchell and Mark, the sacrifice is worth the reward.

They are happy to help front-line workers, even if it is something as simple as a mask strap or testing swab, Olson says.

“It is certainly interesting to play any kind of role in this picture,” Olson said. “As overwhelming as it is sometimes, it’s such a great feeling to be able to help people out there who are on the front lines and who are risking their lives to help us.”

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