Seamstresses and 3D printers are trying to make up for a shortage of medical masks beginning to hit Tennessee. As coronavirus hospitalizations grow, people stuck at home look for some way to pitch in.
3D printers on college campuses across Tennessee are humming 24 hours a day, molding parts for clear face shields.
Oluwatosin Fagbuyi is a graduate student in the engineering department at Tennessee State University. He says he’s always hoped 3D printing would have an important role. Now here it is.
“This is like a very good instance of what I’ve always had in mind.”
Austin Peay State University developed a prototype, and many schools have called back some of their remaining students to keep their machines running. In the first three days, 1,500 face shields were produced.
Fagbuyi says it’s like being part of a war-time effort.
“We have health workers out there risking their lives,” he says. “If this is what we can do to help them, it will be fun to do it.”
The face shields aren’t going directly to hospitals. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency will hold on to them in its stockpile of medical equipment. The first batch is scheduled for delivery Wednesday.
Hand-Sewn Surgical Masks
As 3D printers mold parts for face shields, online tutorials have inspired seamstresses to sew cloth masks.
“While they’re home, they want to still contribute. Those are not mutually exclusive concepts,” says Angela Purinton, a volunteer manager at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
VUMC has decided to start collecting homemade masks at its 100 Oaks campus, where they will be laundered before use. The hospital is even providing instructions.
The hospital has heard some pushback, even from physicians, who point to a study showing cloth masks aren’t as good for infection control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says homemade masks are a “last resort” for health care workers.
“While I love and appreciate so many willing to give and use their talents to contribute to the cause, as a health care provider at Vanderbilt, this is NOT the answer to the shortage that will come,” Dr. Rebecca Wylie Anderson wrote on Vanderbilt Health’s Facebook post about the project, which has hundreds of comments.
But Purinton says doctors and nurses will still use N95 respirators and that VUMC has an adequate supply currently. She says the cloth masks won’t be used for workers treating coronavirus patients and mostly for patients who are coughing or sneezing and would otherwise be given a surgical mask to cover their mouths.
“I understand people are nervous,” Purinton says, adding that Vanderbilt’s supply chain managers are also trying to make sure the DIY masks aren’t needed. “I can tell you that they are doing everything in their power to maintain an adequate supply of personal protective equipment.”
Even if the handmade masks don’t all end up being used, Purinton says they are still a symbol of community support during a trying time.
The excitement has caused a secondary shortage. People trying to sew masks for Vanderbilt are now reporting a local shortage of elastic. So they’ve had to modify the pattern.