When the call went out from area hospitals seeking additional masks to protect doctors and nurses from the COVID-19 virus, a group of Hopkinton-area teachers, students and residents sprung into action.
A tweet from Massachusetts General Hospital asking for the public’s help to produce personal protective equipment (PPE) caught the eye of Doug Scott, who heads up the Business, Technology & Engineering Department for Hopkinton Public Schools.
Scott turned to some of his trusted students, and the group devised a plan to begin using their own 3D printers to make the face shields that area coronavirus first responders so desperately need.
“In our situations as teachers, students and residents we are not in a position to help directly, but by providing those in the medical field some supplies that are needed we are doing what we can to help out,” Scott said.
Tyler Rhodes, a senior at Hopkinton High School, was one of the students Scott contacted. With HHS — and all schools in Massachusetts — closed until at least May 4 because of the pandemic, Rhodes decided to make the best of a bad situation.
“We’re at home, we can’t go out, but we have our 3D printers, our computers, and we have the materials to make masks,” Rhodes said. “There’s no reason not to, and the benefit of doing so is much greater than not doing anything.”
Sucheta Sunder, a sophomore at Hopkinton High, also saw an opportunity to use her downtime to make a difference.
“My printer wasn’t really doing anything. It’s just been sitting around,” Sunder said. “So, when Mr. Scott said if I wanted to help out people, I was like ‘Well, I’m not doing anything anyway, so it would be great to help people out.’ ”
With a lot of extra time on a lot of people’s hands due to the closing of non-essential businesses and stay-at-home advisories, the group of individuals involved has swelled well beyond the walls of Hopkinton High.
A list of people involved provided by Scott includes a number of current and former students as well as school faculty, including Hopkinton Public Schools Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh.
“In education people always refer to the ‘real world’ as if students and teachers are operating in an alternate world,” Scott said. “So this clearly demonstrates to the students that they can put the skills that we learn together to practical use and make a difference in a big way.”
The group also includes Hopkinton residents, members of the police department, area nurses, and even engineering teachers from New York, California, Michigan, Minnesota and Oregon.
“The response by the Hopkinton community and beyond has been overwhelming,” Scott said. “At the same time, the requests for shields from people in other cities, towns and states has been heartbreaking, as we are doing the best that we can — but we can only produce so many.”
The process of 3D printing a face shield involves a lot of moving parts and can be time consuming.
Software used to create the design is downloaded and sent to the 3D printer. The printer uses heated plastic to create pieces of the face shields, which then require individual assembly.
“I would describe 3D printing as nothing more than a glorified or fancy glue gun,” Scott said. “The machine interprets a computerized design and translates that into a build volume. Within that volume it knows exactly where to deposit heated-up plastic material.”
With a societal premium being placed on self-quarantining and social distancing, the group knows it has to take the utmost precautions when assembling the shields.
“We’ve set kind of pretty strict guidelines on sanitation, so we’re always wearing gloves, washing hands before we start handling the material,” Rhodes said.
Once completed, the shields are sent to the Hopkinton Board of Health via public health nurse Kasey Mauro. The Board of Health distributes them to area medical facilities, the Hopkinton Police Department, the Hopkinton Fire Department and anyone else in need.
The group has no numeric goal or target end date for the production of the face shields. As long as the volunteers are needed, they will continue to make them.
“We will continue to make as many face shields as we can until companies … change over their lines and are able to fully meet the demand,” Scott said.
Originally the group had considered producing surgical masks but settled on face shields instead after consulting with area medical professionals.
“We looked at masks that were made out of cloth, which is pretty cool,” Sunder said. “I’m not that much of a person that knows anything about sewing, but I’m pretty sure there are other people that do. So I think that’s definitely a way people could help out.”
Just as groceries and hygienic supplies have been flying off the shelves at stores, so too have supplies necessary to make face shields.
“When I went to order the plastic sheets for my masks, it was the last one in stock on Amazon,” Rhodes said. “So if you have any plastic sheets or bottles that you can cut up and donate those, that’s always helpful. If you do have those, just contact Mr. Scott. He’s looking for those right now.”
Scott can be reached via email at email@example.com.
As for those who don’t have the technology to make shields or masks, the group urges individuals to do their part to help prevent the spread of the virus.
“Definitely just maintaining social distancing, like staying home, staying healthy,” Rhodes said.
Added Scott, “This is a global effort to minimize the spread of the virus. I would say that everybody can help out by respecting the instructions of health officials who are providing the game plan on how to decrease the spread of the virus.”
Editor’s note: This story appears in the April 8 print edition of the Hopkinton Independent.