‘We need them to stay safe’: Local non-profit builds face-shields for hospital workers

Updated: Apr. 12, 2020 at 6:24 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Seth Estep has always had a passion for making things with his hands, but amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the pressure he saw it putting on local hospital workers, he wanted to make sure that his team of craftsmen and volunteers at Build, RVA were collectively putting their hands to good use.

“We’ve all shifted from our furniture or our metal projects to now making personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers,” Estep said. “We are compelled to interact with the world with our hands and our tools, so this is a natural thing for us to do.”

Build, RVA has partnered with RVA Makers and the Good Work Society to assemble craftsmen, volunteers, and resources to assemble face-shields for first responders.

“We are marshaling Build’s resources which include laser cutters and volunteers to produce shields for our front line medical workers,” Estep said.

A laser cutter at Build, RVA cuts out the main shape for the face -shields.
A laser cutter at Build, RVA cuts out the main shape for the face -shields.(NBC12)

Estep and his team have been producing face-shields for over two weeks now using locally sourced raw materials. He began this effort after hearing stories of local nurses having to leave their face masks on for 10-12 hour shifts at a time.

“An anesthesiologist who is performing intubation on a patient with COVID-19 is really the most dangerous exercise where lots of droplets are coming out so from the patient; if sputum were to hit the mask, that mask is now very difficult to resterilize, reclean and reuse,” Estep said. “These face-shields provide an extra layer of protection so that these droplets don’t get on the mask and provide a little safer interaction for that nurse or doctor with a patient.”

Estep says the plastic used for the face-shields is chemically resistant and can be sterilized using a hospital-grade bleach wipe several times. He adds the foam on the shields can’t withstand repeated sterilizations, but says the feedback he’s received from nurses is that the plastic is holding up to their regular sterilizing agents.

“This design and others have gone through clinical trials and the end wearer needs to know that there is no perfect protection that you are going to receive,” Estep said.

The face-shields are made out of three main components: A sheet of PETG plastic, a strip of foam with an adhesive strip to keep the shield off the face of the wearer, and a piece of an elastic cord to tie it all together. Estep says the target-cost to produce one face-shield is approximately $1.50.

“A dollar and half is our target cost, but that adds up when you start producing multiple thousands, but these are donations strictly,” Estep said.

Estep says the face-shields are freely donated to any area hospital that wants one. So far Build, RVA has produced 2,000 shields that have been distributed to St. Francis, Henrico Doctors, VCU Medical Center and Chippenham Hospital.

“We’re up to about 500 a day in Build and I think we’ve had some estimates for the new batch that is coming in that maybe a group of volunteers at one of these sites could produce a thousand a day,” Estep said. “That’s why we’re working quickly to fill the gap between shortages and when our nation’s manufactures can get their tools up and running and start delivering for months to come.”

Build, RVA volunteer assembles face-shields
Build, RVA volunteer assembles face-shields(NBC12)

Estep says that this week they are receiving enough materials to assemble approximately 13,000 shields. He wants to make sure that area hospitals are aware that these resources are up for donation.

“There will be sites opening up next week for volunteers to meet and make shields,” Estep said. “Donations are incredibly important to make sure that the materials we have ordered are payed back.”

Estep says that the designs for the shields are open source, freely obtained and relatively simple to assemble. He adds that Build, RVA is working on ventilators and intubation boxes to provide to hospitals if the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen.

"We’re trying to keep it Richmond-focused, not just the city, but the greater metro area because that’s where our volunteers live and work,” Estep said. “This is an easy product for our volunteers to assemble.”

“We need them to stay safe so we all can stay safe," Kirk Bonner said.

Kirk Bonner (left) is hard at work assembling the components of the face-shield at Build, RVA.
Kirk Bonner (left) is hard at work assembling the components of the face-shield at Build, RVA.(NBC12)

Bonner is on the board of directors for Build, RVA and has been assisting in the assembly process of shields.

"What I really like about the world now is that everybody’s chipping in and you really do feel the maker-can-do spirit out of this. Bonner said. “It’s going to take all of us to fix this problem it’s not just going to go away and I think we hear at Build are set up to help.”

“Are normal products and passions are to make people’s lives better, but in a much broader sense, when we make a table we make it with pride, but we might forget about that table after the next table. This has created an outlet for our creativity and nervous energy.” Estep said. “The ability to have space where we can all work together for a common purpose and project has been wonderful for us, but the reactions we get from the recipients is still probably the best thing.”

If you would like to request a shield donate to Build, RVA or volunteer you can do so HERE.

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