Local front line workers make appeal for protective gear as supplies dwindle

The following is an excerpt from a The Record written by Anam Latif on March 23, 2020.
 Local front line workers make appeal for protective gear as supplies dwindle

WATERLOO REGION — From temporary walls to help separate patients in emergency rooms to laser-cut face shields, local companies are stepping in to help health care workers safely do their jobs in the midst of the pandemic.

Inksmith Ltd. has made thousands of plastic face shields using laser printers and 3D printers. After hearing about a shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers, Inksmith retooled its office, created a new laser-cut design and got to work.

"We went from being able to make four to five a day to making 8,000," said Jeremy Hedges, president of Inksmith Ltd. in Kitchener.

Inksmith Ltd. is an educational tech company that makes tools to help children learn, but now, like many other manufacturers and companies across Canada, it has refocussed its efforts to help equip front line workers with much-needed protective gear.

The plastic face shield covers the wearer's entire face with a curved sheet of plastic. It is worn around the head with a strap and can be disinfected when needed. It is intended for single-day use and to be worn over a surgical face mask as an added layer of protection.

"We're hoping to hand out some of the first face shields to the medical staff who help the homeless," said Neil Naik, a local family doctor and president of the Kitchener-Waterloo Academy of Medicine.

He worked with Inksmith Ltd. to ensure the plastic shields are appropriate for use by healthcare workers. Naik is helping co-ordinate efforts to distribute supplies to front line workers in the community through a grassroots resource started by local doctors.

Covidhealth.ca was created to help pool community resources and rally local manufacturers and tech companies to help create or gather necessary equipment.

Family doctors, pharmacists and other health care practitioners need gloves, N95 masks and surgical masks, sanitizing wipes, gowns and goggles to properly protect themselves from COVID-19.

"I'm worried that we are going to run out," Naik said.

"We need the hospitals for the most sick and vulnerable. Every family doctor that gets ill means one less person who can help see patients in the community," Naik said.

"We need to ease that pressure off the hospitals, that is why we all need PPE (personal protective equipment)."

Local health care workers are asking for monetary or manufacturing donations. Naik is rallying the help of other local tech companies to assist however they can.

"3D printing community is very flexible, they can create a number of different things," Naik said. He read about a company that successfully printed a ventilator.

"It would be great to try to do that here as well."

Local tailors are also pitching in by sewing gowns for health care workers to use. Public libraries and tech companies are helping Inksmith by 3D printing headbands for the laser-cut plastic shields. All the pieces printed by others will be disinfected before shields are assembled, Hedges assured.

"The community has really risen to the challenge," Hedges said.