In the right hands, a few common items can make all the difference: some plastic film of the sort your milk jug is made of, a bit of insulation foam and a short length of bungee cord. Assemble them with precision and — voila! — you’ve created a little magic for our times. Also known as a face shield to protect health care workers from COVID-19.
With the backdrop of a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, the Build Forward Foundation — which operates the Build, RVA “makerspace” in Scott’s Addition — partnered with RVA Makers to start producing the face shields to donate to local medical teams.
“They’re phenomenal,” said Lindsey Sutton, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, who received the first batch of 88 face shields for the anesthesia providers at St. Mary’s Hospital, where Sutton works.
As the virus spreads and with the uncertainty of future personal protective equipment supplies, Sutton said Tuesday it seemed a good idea to secure the face shields when she heard about them from a friend.
“Obviously, now it’s becoming very important to make sure we have the proper equipment,” she said.
The shields cover the entire face, protecting workers from potentially infectious materials — in this case, the highly contagious coronavirus, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says spreads through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes and that can land in the mouths or noses of people nearby and possibly be inhaled into their lungs.
Reports from around the nation and the world have carried stories of health care workers who have contracted the virus and died after treating COVID-19 patients. The potential of an overwhelmed health system is one of the concerns as the number of reported cases increases.
In normal times, Sutton said, anesthesia providers would use the shields only on patients with obvious symptoms, but now, “We’re mostly treating all patients as if they’re possible COVID patients.”
These particular face shields — and others are being fashioned around the area — come from Build, RVA, a 10,000-square-foot facility that is a community “makerspace” and product incubator that serves as a workspace for, as its website says, “aspiring entrepreneurs, creators, makers and tinkerers seeking tools and knowledge to advance their passions.”
“Build operates not unlike a gym, where you pay a monthly fee and instead of elliptical machines and weights we have laser-cutters and table saws,” said Seth Estep, director of Build, RVA. ”You come in on your own time and if you know how to, great; if you don’t, that’s also great. We like to teach people new skills.
“Some people treat it just like a gym. They get off work, they come in and make cutting boards or lamps or play with electronics, and we have some members who put food on their table with the work they accomplish here.”
Adopting a design from an Oregon company that makes face shields and using laser-cutting machines normally used by artists, craftsman and startup businesses, volunteers have been working in recent days to turn out the face shields. More requests for the face shields have come in, and Estep figures they will become even faster cranking them out. They also are looking into making surgical masks and emergency ventilators at Build, RVA, he said.
“We definitely like solving problems,” he said. “This is actually a problem that affects so many people, so we feel energized.”
Sutton said the face shields produced at Build, RVA are high quality. I asked if they could be reused or if they were disposable.
“Disposable is a very complicated word at this point,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t think anybody feels like we have anything that is disposable at this point.”
The face shields can be used more than once and sanitized between uses, she said, but they also might be disposed after being used with a patient who has COVID-19.
Sutton said she’s humbled by all of the people helping to make PPE items.
“I think it’s incredible that our community has been willing to undertake whatever is necessary for the hospitals in Richmond,” she said. “Because it’s very hard to take the time out to try to source equipment for ourselves. I know I speak for every health care provider that we are so blown away by the outpouring of support.”