Masks, face shields, gloves, and other protective gear have become ubiquitous sights in this global coronavirus pandemic. This has occurred even as governments are scrambling to provide enough of this vital equipment to healthcare workers treating virus-stricken patients.
Officials in Western countries have vacillated between asking the general population to wear masks as a precaution and emphasizing that they should be left for medical professionals.
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The shortage – and the uncertainty – has led to creative contributions in the DIY space, as YouTube tutorials of bloggers, influencers, and designers making homemade masks out of t-shirts, bandanas, pillowcases, and even coffee filters have begun to thrive on the online video-sharing platform.
Medical professionals, meanwhile, continue to worry about their own protection. It’s not just the doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients who are feeling endangered by the circumstances. Medical staff in other departments, including emergency room personnel, are still uncertain if the medical masks and protective gear they have received are even enough.
Recently, the Media Innovation Lab (miLAB) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya answered the call of a member of the ER staff at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba to come up with a face shield for the staff. This member had read about Israel’s version of the “makers community,” based on the international concept of “maker culture”, or tech-savvy individuals representing an extension of DIY and hacker culture, who had launched an initiative to help combat the pandemic by manufacturing shields using raw materials and 3D-printing. These local “makers” would then post the information and details online so that anyone with a 3D printer at home could make them. The shields are then donated to essential workers in factories, pharmacies, supermarkets, and medical institutions.
The Meir hospital worker was looking for such a shield for staff in the hospital’s emergency room when she approached miLAB, a human-computer interaction research and prototyping lab.
“The regular ER doesn’t have the special medical shields that they have in the areas where they take care of coronavirus patients,” said Andrey Grishko, a miLAB research associate and industrial designer who is part of the “Makers” community, “She said they were looking for extra protection.”
Grishko says miLAB staff are producing 150 masks this week for Meir hospital workers with the possibility of adding more later.
MiLAB was granted special permission from the IDC to use their facilities while the rest of the campus is shut as per government directives, though only one person can come in at a time. Grishko says he can make about 15 to 17 masks a day.
While some masks had already been created, hospital workers requested the ones being donated to Meir have certain requirements, Grishko tells NoCamels.
“They asked us to make some adjustments so that it’s easier to clean sterilize,” he said
The miLAB face shield does not adhere to medical standards, Grishko says, meaning that it should be mainly be offered as an extra covering to someone who already has something else on. While the shield is not hermetic and cannot be used alone, Grishko does hope it provides “extra confidence ” to healthcare workers.
“People should understand that it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear a special face mask,” Grishko explains.
Others have approached miLAB privately about shields for themselves and their loved ones, including a woman from Ness Ziona with a hearing impairment who requested it for herself and her family.
For people who rely on lip-reading, a mask can be problematic because the mouth is covered up. While not a perfect solution, a face shield could provide at least some measure of protection. MiLAB offered to make at least five masks for the woman and her family for free.
In another stroke of DIY genius and innovation, an American student created a face mask for the deaf or hard of hearing community last week using plastic and bedsheets.
How to make your own face shield
MiLAB’s adjustable COVID-19 / coronavirus face shield uses basic office supplies and biodegradable thermoplastic material printed using a 3D-printer.
Grishko shared a video of how to assemble the shield on a website specializing in user-created and uploaded do-it-yourself projects called Instructables. The clip comes with step-by-step instructions and miLAB notes that the shield was printed on an Ultimaker 3 printer at 0.2mm resolution, offering other notes so that others can make the shield.
A key part of the device was the actual shield made of polylactic acid, commonly known as PLA, a biodegradable thermoplastic derived from renewable resources such as corn starch or sugarcane and one of the most popular materials used in desktop 3D-printing.
Unlike many of the face masks and shields worn by the public, covering the nose and mouth to prevent the transmission of droplets from an infected patient, this design can be used temporarily for eye protection only.
SARS-CoV-2, the current virus identified as acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, which causes the disease COVID-19, can be transmitted through droplets that reach the eye, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).