ETSU faculty making personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, patients

Jonathan Roberts • Apr 25, 2020 at 9:00 AM

In late March, the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee sent out an urgent plea to universities across the state for help creating 10,000 face shields for healthcare workers in Nashville.

The plan called for universities to 3D-print headbands, which would be sent to Austin Peay State University, where the face shields would be assembled and transported to the capital.

Keith Johnson, chair of East Tennessee State University’s Engineering Technology Department, immediately knew he wanted to help.

Just not in the way they originally planned.

Rather than only create headbands for the shields, Johnson and his colleague Bill Hemphill came up with a plan late one weekend to laser-cut and assemble full face shields and distribute them to local healthcare workers.

“We’re exceeding expectations,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want to just do a 3D frame and send it to Austin Peay, I wanted us to do a finished product right here for the region.

“And that’s what we’ve been able to do,” Johnson continued.

They’ve distributed 2,500 face shields to help meet an estimated need of 7,000 in the area, and now have the capability to create 200 to 300 a day, depending on how many people they have to operate the machines.

“It’s just been a wonderful experience to see everyone pool together — we all benefit from this,” Johnson said. “We all want to see this community do well.”

In ETSU’s Art and Design Department, assistant professor Vanessa Mayoraz is working to help create and collect sewn and no-sew facemasks for patients at ETSU Health Clinics.

“I think it’s really important that everybody is doing their part, and it’s important for me that I do that,” Mayoraz said, adding that she hasn’t really had time to think about the impact their work might have on the community.

“We’re all in this together, so if we can all do a little bit, it’s going to be better for everybody.”

For more information on ETSU’s personal protective equipment project, visit etsu.edu/coronavirus/maker-project. To volunteer or to donate materials to make masks, visit etsu.edu/cas/art/covid-19-volunteer.php.

“I think everybody wants to do something, it’s just that we don’t know what to do,” Johnson said. “This is much bigger than us individually.”

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