Big Island Coronavirus Updates

WHEA Students Start Face Shield Initiative, Arm Community Against Coronavirus

April 9, 2020, 10:31 AM HST
* Updated April 9, 10:38 AM
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A face shield rendered by a local 3D printer and destined for a Big Island healthcare worker. PC: Dr. Brett Carey

Students at West Hawai‘i Explorations Academy didn’t like the idea of passively waiting out a global pandemic that’s resewn the fabric of society in a matter of weeks.

Now, an idea born of the question “What can we do to help?” has transformed into an effort by upwards of three dozen students, teachers, parents and private citizens to 3D print protective face shields en masse — one for every first responder, and more.

“Everybody who’s out there dealing with other people should have a shield, not just a mask,” said Valerie Delahaye-Ippolito, whose children attend WHEA and who stepped in to help organize the effort once it began to grow. “We need to do at least 6,000 face masks. My dream is everyone at Costco, everyone at Target, anyone who still has to work has a shield and not just a mask.”

The Big Island Coronavirus Response Initiative, as it’s now called, produces the shields under the guidance of medical professionals like Dr. Brett Carey, West Hawai‘i Community Health Center Health Service Co-Chair and IT-Chair.

A liaison to the group and married to the manager of the intensive care unit at Kona Community Hospital (KCH), Carey has advised those rendering and assembling the protective face shields on the optimal design, necessary materials, appropriate sanitizing methods and how the shields might be reused in healthcare settings.

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The value of the shields, Carey said, is in their function as a physical barrier. Anytime a nurse or doctor intubates a patient, which many severe cases of COVID-19 infection will require, the risk of throat spasms and resulting projectiles is high.

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The shield doesn’t just protect the wearer, it protects the N95 mask worn underneath it. Such personal protective equipment (PPE) is at a premium across the world amid the outbreak, as many healthcare professionals are being asked to use the same mask for hours or even days across the treatment of multiple patients.

Carey said roughly 2,000 shields would need to be produced to meet the needs of the medical community islandwide. Delahaye-Ippolito has set the Initiative’s production goal at 6,000, which will be a tall order for a team of roughly 30 people with around ten 3D printers at their disposal.

Makoto Sturdy, the technology coordinator at Holualoa Elementary, may have been the first person on the Big Island to begin 3D printing PPE to buoy supply for local healthcare workers.

WHEA Campus. PC: Friends of NELHA

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“Like any of us, we try to find things we can do to help,” he said. “I have access to a 3D printer. When I saw articles about people making these things, I thought, ‘I have the ability to do so.’ Then Valerie gave me a call and asked if I could help.”

Sturdy said he can print two masks at a time. If he spends his time on nothing else, he can render around eight per day. His process is slower than some because other printers can produce more than two shields simultaneously. Also, the particular shield design he’s implemented requires more time than some others.

Carey noted that anyone with a 3D printer who plans to get involved with the initiative, or just print face shields on their own, should consult the National Institute of Health for its official design, which provides optimal protection.

Delahaye-Ippolito said 25 masks have already been distributed to Department of Education employees who run grab-and-go meal centers at schools across Hawai‘i Island. An estimated 300 more will be needed to supply Kona Community Hospital alone.

While production rates are significant for the number of people currently involved in the Initiative, a lack of materials and machines, as well as people to run them, limit production to fewer than 100 shields daily. That timeline would put the goal of 6,000 shields at least two months out.

However, Sturdy said several schools have 3D printers and he guessed the number of available printers in private homes across the island is probably in the hundreds. Even without access to a printer, there are plenty of ways community members can help.

As such, the Big Island Coronavirus Response Initiative is asking the community to be as resourceful as the robotics students at WHEA, who created the shield assembly program, and help with the effort.

Help is needed in several areas:

  • Providing the makers with enough materials to keep them going
  • Delivering raw materials and parts to assembly locations
  • Delivering the assembled pieces to their final destinations
  • Data/info processing, scheduling, organizing
  • Getting the community involved and aware of the efforts of schools

Materials needed are as follows:

  • 3d Printers — The initiative already has Holualoa school, WHEA, Parker and HPA onboard, but other schools or private 3D printer owners are asked to reach out
  • Plastic shield material — DURAPLEX 0.08-in T x 18-in W x 24-in L Clear Acrylic Sheets (can be purchased at Lowe’s for $15.48 per sheet)
  • Simple plastic film (inquire as necessary for details)
  • 3D Printer filaments PLA print filament or PTEG filament

Those interested in helping may contact Delahaye-Ippolito at 323-599-1888 or email her at
[email protected]. If anyone has any questions on design or materials, reach out for guidance before misusing any resources.

“This all came from the students,” Delahaye-Ippolito said. “This is why education, and investing in education, is so important.”

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