Two Wars: Treating the Patient & Protecting the Frontlines

The Ugly Truth

By early March, the COVID 19 pandemic exposed glaring supply deficits in hospitals and healthcare systems across the U.S. It quickly became obvious that if the projected numbers of infections were even remotely true, each state would experience staggering losses of life to the pandemic, while simultaneously being ill-prepared to protect those providing care on the front lines.

With this stark realization, healthcare institutions set about addressing shortages in clinical staff, infectious care processes and the personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE’s include gloves, goggles, face masks, air purifying respirators, face shields and gowns.

3D Face Masks: Florida Tech is using 3D printers to create face shields for health workers.

In Florida, like New York, California and Texas, the initial projected numbers of infections were staggering. State officials jumped into action by requesting large amounts of emergency supplies from the National Stock Pile, which is managed by the (federal) Department of Health and Human Services, to fill the PPE shortages. And, unlike other states, Florida was granted its entire need request. While many states felt they were overlooked, the HHS department maintained that needs were assessed based on population and infection calculations – maintaining it made the right decision for Florida.

While the assistance by the national government seemed like good news, the emergency resources would need to be spread and shared across the state – thereby, the need for PPE’s remained an emergency throughout Florida. Clinicians were growing concerned with the PPE shortages, knowing they’d be adversely impacted, as many were asked to repurpose used equipment while holding out hope of a solution on the horizon as the pandemic unfolded.

While there are so many reasons that make the U.S. one of the greatest countries in the world, the American people who come together in a national crisis are likely it’s number one reason. As seen in states across the country, large and small businesses alike joined the race to influence the PPE shortages. Corporate officials at Ford, Tesla and General Motors transitioned their normal functions by joining PPE manufacturers to ramp up production of these vital supplies for healthcare workers fighting the front lines of the pandemic.

Shifting Gears to Contribute

Blinds of All Kinds employee’s focus shifted from decorating services to masks that protect medical workers in the frontlines.

In Brevard County, staff members at Blinds of All Kinds, an industry leader in window treatments and drapery since 1983, wanted to help.

Christine Brown, Sales Manager and Custom Designer, happened upon a news article about a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville who had successfully created a mask using Halyard H600 two-ply spun polypropylene, the sterile wrapping material that is used to drape surgical instruments after the sterilization process. The material is in no shortage at hospitals everywhere, and an idea was born.

“We knew that people would not be needing decorating services during a quarantine, so as employees, we could focus on making masks that would help protect our frontline medical workers,” she said. “We had read about the PPE shortages and wanted to make a difference here in Brevard.”

Having enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Health First for years, the two companies joined forces to develop a mask prototype. Using the same materials as outlined in the article, Blinds of All Kinds went to work, successfully manufacturing some 150-200 reusable covers daily for the N95 masks worn by Health First clinicians.

Shifting Gears to Contribute

At Florida Tech, faculty, staff and students came together to develop and 3D-print face shields and face shield extensions for local frontline healthcare workers.

Dean Marco Carvalho and his student/staff team at the College of Engineering and Science created the shields with input and adjustments provided by local physicians.

With university classes transitioning to online study for the remainder of the summer, the campus laboratories are being used to produce and deliver over 100 face shields and extensions to local first responders, police departments and frontline workers (as of early May).

Although the face shields are relatively inexpensive to make, the College of Engineering and Science at Florida Tech are generously covering expenses associated with the project. “’I’m extremely proud of our Florida Tech team that, without hesitation, jumped into action to work days, nights and weekends to help our community,” said Carvalho.

Members of the team leading the effort include:
(from left) Marco Carvalho, Dean of Florida Tech’s College of Engineering and Science, Juan Avendano Arbelaez, Deep Patel and David Beavers.

While the pandemic continues its course, CDC officials are continuing to caution the public to remain diligent and not to let down our guard, as a second wave of illnesses in the Fall is expected. Social distancing measures, while following proper hygiene protocols, are still the best course of action against this silent enemy.

So much of our daily lives have changed, however a few important things remain. With over 600,000 plus Brevard County residents, the small-town feels aren’t lost here in the big-time crisis we all are facing.

Instead, there are bright spots everywhere, if you’re open to seeing them as so many bright, dedicated and talented business owners and residents alike are coming together to collaborate, communicate and develop important measures to assist others in need.

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