A network of 3D printer-users has stepped in to help hospitals grappling with critical shortages of protective gear and other vital medical supplies during the covid-19 pandemic, NPR reports. It’s the latest unorthodox emergency measure U.S. health workers, who are pleading for equipment, have been increasingly forced to rely on as America has soared past all other countries in total confirmed cases.
Several private-sector distributors like Dyson and Tesla have begun manufacturing potentially life-saving ventilators, and as for face masks—gear that’s critical to mitigate the virus’ spread for those on the front lines—hospital workers have taken to DIY-ing them with craft supplies or risking infection by reusing the few they still have.
After hearing these reports, Amy Kuceyeski, an associate professor in mathematics and radiology at Cornell University, sent out an email blast earlier this week searching for people with idle 3-D printers that would like to help, per NPR’s report.
The call attracted roughly 50 community members and Cornell affiliates with 100 3D printers between them. On Friday, the team delivered the first fruits of their efforts to two New York health facilities: a pallet of 400 3D-printed face shields as well as several plastic visors and other incidental protective gear. These plastic shields can be used in conjunction with N-95 face masks to keep hospital workers from coming into contact with the kinds of airborne droplets that could potentially be a vector for the virus.
“When I get scared, I want to do something about it,” Kuceyeski told NPR. “And I think that’s the general tone of people that are approaching us and wanting to join this movement is that they want to do something to help, whether it’s two or three visors, or if it’s 400.”
Hobbyist Elliot Wells told the outlet that he and others in the group relied on an open-source design from Sweden to manufacture the supplies, though only after it received a seal of approval from Weil Cornell Medical Center. To be used in hospitals, any donated gear must adhere to certain medical standards, which made this project particularly challenging, Wells said.
“I’ve never put myself in a situation where the deadlines are so tight and the quality needs to be so high,” he told NPR. “We’re in a middle of a pandemic that’s of a scope that we don’t really understand and most of us have no direct control over, but it’s easy to forget that there’s a huge number of things we do have control over. And if we are working together and we’re collaborating, and we’re using the tools at our disposal, we can get a tremendous amount done.”
And this grassroots effort isn’t limited to New York. Informal coalitions of hobbyists and professionals have begun popping up across America and around the world to 3D-print the critical supplies desperately needed in order to treat covid-19 patients without potentially endangering the health of hospital staff.