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TCAT-Elizabethton joins other colleges in making protective face shields for health workers

John Thompson • Mar 24, 2020 at 8:05 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Elizabethton is one of Tennessee’s community and technical colleges that will be working on a project to protect the state’s paramedics and other health care providers during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Using 3D printers to get a model of medical face shields, the schools are crafting the safety devices from scratch.

Using the 3D printers, Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology at Elizabethton, Jackson, Morristown, Murfreesboro and Shelbyville, and Jackson State and Pellissippi State community colleges manufactured 858 headbands from Saturday through Monday afternoon that will be used for the plastic face shields. Other campuses are supplying 3D printers, materials and supplies for the ongoing effort.

The project, announced by Gov. Bill Lee Monday afternoon, is part of the governor’s work to find new and innovative ways to serve Tennesseans during the COVID-19 crisis. Last week, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, in concert with the Tennessee Board of Regents and respective universities, began to locate 3D printers for the production of personal protective equipment face shields. After only three days of intensive efforts that included a range of community and business partners, the overall effort has produced a total of more than 1,500 critically needed pieces of PPE for health care professionals. The work will continue in the coming days and weeks.

The headbands are being sent to Austin Peay State University, which THEC says originated the prototype and where the headbands will be attached to transparent plastic face shields. THEC said the first batch of assembled face shields are expected to be delivered Wednesday to the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency for distribution to healthcare facilities and professionals facing shortages of the equipment. Health professionals wear face shields over masks as further protection from infectious diseases while working with patients.

THEC says other participating institutions include East Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University, the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. More are expected to join the collaborative effort.

Tennessee’s 27 public colleges of applied technology and 13 community colleges comprise the College System of Tennessee, governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents. The colleges are also providing other protective gear, including protective suits used in certain health and other technical fields.

TBR Chancellor Flora Tydings said the college system is proud to have a role in helping protect health professionals working on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak. “When Governor Lee and THEC Executive Director Mike Krause asked us to join this important work last week, our colleges — all of whom were busy preparing for the shift to online education — stepped up, expanded their focus and jumped into action to help. Many nurses, doctors and other health professionals are alumni of our colleges and we’re delighted to help protect them and their colleagues who are doing so much to protect us all,” Tydings said.

“It all goes to show the strength of our team, and when we need to, we can be an army assisting in our state’s overall effort in fighting coronavirus and COVID-19,” the chancellor added.

Dr. Carol Puryear, TBR vice chancellor for economic and community development and interim president of TCA- Murfreesboro, is leading the college system’s role in the effort. “We sent the pattern to our campuses on Friday and faculty started producing the headbands Saturday. Faculty members worked through the weekend and we have made more than 850 as of this afternoon,” Puryear said “I cannot say enough about the dedication and hard work of our faculty involved in this effort. They’re working virtually around the clock.”

Bob Robinson, public information officer for TCAT-Elizabethton said the decision of the school to go fully online has not stopped the plans for the face shields in Elizabethton. He said faculty who are familiar with 3D printing will be doing the work at their homes during the time the campus is operating online.

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