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From directing traffic to sewing masks, hospital worker Hizbawi Kiros does whatever’s asked to battle COVID-19

Hizbawi Kiros, a valet for Sinai Hospital, is part of a team making masks for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until early March, Hizbawi Kiros worked as a valet at Sinai Hospital. He’s happiest when interacting with people who need his help, so he liked the job, which he’d held for almost three years.

But when Sinai created a drive-up COVID-19 testing center on the parking lot where Kiros worked, his bosses asked him to become a traffic director for patients, some of whom would show up frightened or confused. He embraced the new role.

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“It was not difficult at all,” the Owings Mills resident said. “We just asked what was required and how do we make it efficient?”

Hizbawi Kiros, a valet for Sinai Hospital, part of LifeBridge Health, is now working as part of a team at Northwest Hospital to make masks for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of is recent jobs is to cut cotton ties for masks made of surgical wrap like the one on the left. On right is a one piece fabric mask made by Under Armour that workers fold into shape. Kiros is standing among boxes of surgical wrap. April 1, 2020.
Hizbawi Kiros, a valet for Sinai Hospital, part of LifeBridge Health, is now working as part of a team at Northwest Hospital to make masks for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of is recent jobs is to cut cotton ties for masks made of surgical wrap like the one on the left. On right is a one piece fabric mask made by Under Armour that workers fold into shape. Kiros is standing among boxes of surgical wrap. April 1, 2020. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

The 42-year-old Kiros has become a one-man Swiss Army knife for LifeBridge Health since the hospital chain began confronting the coronavirus pandemic.

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“In the mix of everything that was going on in the past weeks, with everybody scrambling to adjust and be prepared, it stood out that the one person constantly asking, ‘What can I do?’ or ‘How can I help?’ was Kiros,” said Bernie Gerst, assistant vice president for parking and security at Lifebridge.

Kiros grew up in Ethiopia. His life carried him across an ocean and into information-technology jobs with large companies such as Monsanto and Veritas — preparation for the current crisis.

Using pre-written billboards, he was able to explain to patients how they would approach the testing tent without them having to roll down their windows. Others he had to turn away because they arrived without referrals or appointments.

“Some would get angry,” he said. “And of course, it takes a certain skill set to understand what the requirement is and give the right information … From my background, I worked in high-efficiency, high-stress environments where you have to remain calm and concise to what it required.”

Those who worked with Kiros praised his clarity and poise.

“He was perfect,” Gerst said. “That was a job where he clearly stepped out of his normal role and jumped into this one in such a great fashion. He’s got that attitude and that approach of, ‘Whatever you need, just let me know and I’ll do it for you.’”

On a recent Wednesday afternoon at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown, Kiros bent over a white counter in a makeshift operations room adorned by little more than exposed pipes and bare lightbulbs. With hands covered by blue surgical gloves, he assembled the masks needed by doctors and nurses to battle the disease.

He had not sewed a stitch of clothing since he was a boy, working at his grandmother’s side as she mended pants ripped during neighborhood soccer games. Now, he is part of a team of 30 assembling masks from materials donated by Under Armour.

He does not view himself as any kind of hero.

“If I’m efficient enough, and I’m providing what needs to be done, that’s where I derive my satisfaction" he said. "I don’t individually say, ‘I did this because this happened.’ I say, ‘I participated to make something better.’”


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