B.C. companies innovate to help frontline health-care workers
Published Monday, March 30, 2020 5:57PM PDT Last Updated Monday, March 30, 2020 8:17PM PDT
VANCOUVER -- As frontline health-care workers continue their battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, companies across British Columbia are finding innovative ways to help.
In downtown Vancouver, a creative visualization agency is using 3D printers to make face shields, the clear, plastic masks that cover your entire face, neck and forehead and protect wearers from potentially dangerous droplets.
The firm usually uses the printers to make architectural models, but they have now been reconfigured with open-source data to print dozens of plastic shields a day.
Leon Ng, the CEO at LNG Studios, said his company was contacted by Richmond Hospital, which was in dire need of the protective shields.
“We sent them some prototypes, they approved it, and said ‘We need 50 more right away,’” he said. “Currently, our studio is producing 40 or 50 a day. That’s not enough but collectively, with our 3D printing community, we have done over a couple hundred in the last two days.”
He’s asked other companies with 3D printers to step up, and raised thousands of dollars through a GoFundMe account to pay for production. Now, the face shields are being used by health-care workers at hospitals across the Lower Mainland.
And Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday that donations are welcome.
“It’s a really important, critical piece to protect health-care workers,” she said. “There’s a lot of really innovative people out there who we’ve been connecting with, and we have a whole group at the ministry who are validating each individual donation.”
The high demand for masks means workers in some sectors are reusing them.
North Vancouver’s Jack Drummond, who runs a mattress-cleaning company called CleanSleep, is currently waiting on testing to confirm his cleaning technology can be used to kill COVID-19 on personal protective equipment.
His mobile truck is a germ killer, and able to clean anything from hockey gear to dirty mattresses.
“There’s a combination of UV light, ozone, infrared heat, vacuum and a dry steam,” he said. “So all of those combined destroy most viruses and bacteria.”
Drummond’s company is cleaning masks for workers at some assisted living and long-term care homes that have been forced to reuse them because of the shortage, and Drummond is hoping to do much more once the test results come through next month.
In Duncan, business owner Jennifer Graham has her seamstresses making cloth masks instead of clothing.
“I noticed in the States that people were starting to need masks, and there were hospitals calling for these fabric masks. I just thought – well, we can make that. We just started working and putting the word out,” she said. “Some doctors contacted us so we started supplying medical clinics and pharmacies. We’ve put all of our clothing production on hold for now, to try to get as many of these masks out there as needed.”
Graham found the sewing pattern online and tweaked it to fit better. Salt and West’s seamstresses have made about a thousand masks since they started last week. And while the company is selling them, it’s also donating as many as it can.
Rather than replace N95s, they’re meant to free-up medical-grade masks for those who need them most. Graham said her company’s masks can be used by food service workers and even funeral home staff. She has also donated many to soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
“The idea is to give an alternative where people are running out, so if people are running out of surgical masks and they don’t have them - especially if you’re working in a food service environment or you’re working in a grocery store or something like that but there’s no masks for you - this is one way where we can keep our germs to ourselves,” Graham said.
Emergency Department Physician Dr. Sean Wormsbecker warns cloth masks are easily contaminated.
“It’s probably better than nothing, if it’s a clean mask. I think we have to be cautious with anything new and anything hobby made until it’s been verified,” he said. “You can’t ever, ever adjust the mask once when you‘ve applied it. When I see people in the community wearing a mask, reaching up, pulling it down under their chin and then replacing it - they are putting themselves at more risk. They’re not protecting themselves.”
But he added he’s encouraged by all the people stepping up to help, particularly on the Facebook group Vancouver Makers for Emergency Response and Support.
“The short answer is - I’m excited,” he said.
If you want to make your own mask, Graham has posted the free pattern on her website. A Toronto hospital has also published a pattern, challenging its neighbours who want to help to make a thousand each week.