NC State Students Make Shields to Protect Medical Workers from COVID-19

Student volunteers making face shields
Student volunteers making face shields. -- NC State photos

Healthcare workers on the coronavirus frontline continue to risk their own lives to care for the sick. 

However, a group of graduate student volunteers at North Carolina State University’s Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department are determined to protect them.

For the last few weeks, they have been working around the clock in the department’s machine shop, using lasers to cut materials and produce personal protective equipment (PPE).

“As long as there's a need for PPE and the shortage from suppliers continues, we'll be here to meet the demand as best we can,” Landon Grace, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, told the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.

Landon Grace
Landon Grace

In the past two months, more than 9,000 U.S. healthcare workers have contracted COVID-19, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on April 17.

It’s estimated that 27 of those have died from the disease. However, challenges in collecting data suggest that the true toll of COVID-19 on healthcare workers is probably far higher.

Meanwhile, medical centers around the country continue to report a severe shortage of PPE. Some workers have been forced to use rain ponchos, and even garbage bags, to protect themselves.

Two types of shields 

At NC State, the team is working to make two main items of personal protective equipment: specialized plastic shields with an inner rubber lining that creates a seal around the face ("PAPR shield"); and hospital bed intubation shields that have a curved upper surface for greater visibility and working space, along with a disposable plastic curtain that can be rolled down in the front to protect anyone at the foot of the patient's bed. 

Bed shield for healthcare workers
Shield system developed by NC State protects healthcare workers.

“The PAPR shields are used with powered air-purifying respirators to create a positive-pressure environment around the wearer's face, preventing any aerosols from entering the sealed area,” Grace explained.

“The intubation shields go over a patient's upper body while on a hospital bed in order to protect the physician, usually during an intubation procedure.”

The group is averaging around 80 shields per day. NC State is funding the project, except for the raw materials, which are being purchased by the various hospital systems in need across the state.

Meanwhile, the group is also collecting 3D printed face shield visors from a local network. 

Members of the local community with 3D printers at home are delivering about 60 visors per day, which the group inspects, cleans, assembles, and distributes to smaller clinics and hospitals that need basic face shields. 

“Our group of 12 to 15 graduate student volunteers, along with myself and our research operations manager, are working about 10 hours a day to keep up with demand,” Grace added.

“We've distributed intubation shields and PAPR face shields across the state, as far away as Hickory County. Most are going to hospitals associated with UNC, WakeMed and Cone Health.” 

Grace said he hopes it’s just a matter of weeks until the original suppliers of these items can ramp up to meet demand across the country.  

“We may continue building and supplying intubation shields, as this is our own design and not made by any manufacturers.”

Meanwhile, at NC State’s Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC), on the Centennial Campus, staff members are making plans to start producing antiviral hand sanitizer. That project is expected to get underway in the next couple of weeks.

Chantal Allam, NCBiotech Writer
Mon, 04/20/2020 - 13:17