A Rutland makerspace wants to produce 10,000 face shields for the local hospital to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it needs the plastic to do it.

Per Gov. Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order issued last week, directing all nonessential businesses to cease in-person operations, the MINT has been closed, according to MINT maker “evangelist” Karen McCalla.

“I think everybody has been struggling with, ‘Well, I know I’m helping by staying at home, but that doesn’t seem very helpful, so what else could we do?’” said McCalla. “We were in contact with the hospital, and they had reported that they really were running short on some (personal protective equipment).”

The MINT is a place in Rutland City where members can access anything from manufacturing tools to business advice. It’s staffed by a core group of volunteers called an “operations team,” said McCalla. Many similar groups across the state and country have been working to supply health care personnel with personal protective equipment (PPE) should supplies run low.

“There is not a shortage of PPE at Rutland Regional Medical Center,” said Peg Bolgioni, hospital spokeswoman. “We do not know what the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic will be, so we want to be prepared with a strong inventory of necessary equipment to protect our staff and patients.”

The MINT was initially going to try supplying Rutland Regional Medical Center with fabric face masks, but making effective ones requires certain materials and the MINT isn’t set up for a great deal of sewing work, said McCalla.

“So the hospital said if we had face shields — they’re ... the plastic things you’ll see emergency workers wearing over their mask — it prevents a lot of the aerosolized stuff from being breathed in anyway, and they are running short on those,” she said.

According to McCalla, to make the face shields the MINT needs a certain type of plastic of a certain thickness, which she described as “0.020 thickness, PET.”

“The specific thing about that plastic that’s great is it’s already used in the medical field because it can be sterilized, and it’s thin enough that our design requires it to be flexible to get bent, and so that’s what’s going to work,” she said.

Gabe Oberkirch and Tom Lichtman are the two members of the MINT’s operations team that see to its day-to-day operations. They designed the face shields and converted the blueprints into a file usable by most laser cutters. McCalla said they’ve made the designs available on the MINT’s website so others can use them.

The MINT’s problem is it doesn’t have the plastic required to make the shields.

“The problem is, apparently, some suppliers still have some, but they’re selling it to people who are going to make the masks to sell them, we want to just give them to the hospital,” she said. “We’ll buy the material, but everybody is sold out on it, so we’re just hoping to find a vendor that will work with us given that we’re just trying to help people out.”

They have one vendor they’re talking to, she said, but the vendor won’t have the material for another three to four weeks.

McCalla said the MINT is looking for donations of the required plastic material, or for monetary donations to purchase it. She said if it’s selling for the price it’s supposed to be selling for, it’ll cost about $4,000. The MINT can front that, she said, but would appreciate any help. She said once there’s enough material, the MINT can make 1,000 face shields in an eight-hour shift. They store flat and can thus be moved easily, plus they only take seconds to assemble for use.

She said information on how to help can be found at the MINT’s website at rutlandmint.org/PPE-Project/

Oberkirch said the design the MINT is working with is based on one from Lithuania, and was tweaked by Lichtman while consulting with the hospital. Oberkirch said he works as a product designer for Questech, but hadn’t made anything like this before.

The MINT is using its 3-D printer to create ventilator splitters, which allow a ventilator to be shared among multiple patients. McCalla said Oberkirch has created some prototypes using designs from a makerspace in Colorado and hope Rutland Regional Medical Center will approve them for use.

Bolgioni said the 10,000 face shields, should The MINT get the supplies to make them, would be added to the hospital’s existing supply. She said she couldn’t speak to how reusable they are at this time.

“We are receiving a large number of fabric mask donations to the hospital, and we will continue to need and accept those donations,” she said. “These masks will be used in non-patient care areas. The face shields made by the MINT will not replace the fabric-made masks.”

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com

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