Providing Protection 

By Patrick Bohn ’05, April 7, 2020
Ithaca College community pitches in to help those responding to coronavirus.

As the coronavirus has spread throughout the country, the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) has increased dramatically, particularly for doctors and nurses who are treating patients in hospitals. Unfortunately, a surge in patients has meant that many hospitals are facing a shortage of critical equipment such as masks. 

In late March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo publicly asked any companies and individuals who are capable of producing this equipment to do so. And when he did, the Ithaca College community jumped into action, on a scale both large and small. 

Jeff Golden is the director of general services at the college. Hearing Cuomo’s announcement, a light bulb went off. “It occurred to me, print operations manager Glen Harris and warehouse associate David Westgate that we were in a position to produce a lot of stuff pretty quickly,” he said. “So we talked with executive director of auxiliary services Dave Prunty about what we needed to do to get it up and running.” 

Using college equipment and materials, such as the four-foot by eight-foot sheets of plastic used for on-campus signage, the group has been able to print up a large number of face shields quickly to help meet local needs. They hope to print up medical masks soon as well.  

They’ve already sent 1,000 shields to the William George Agency, a nonprofit residential learning center for young men and women, and Arnot Health recently placed a request for 1,000 shields. Additionally, they will donate 1,000 shields to Cayuga Medical Center. 

“Our production capacity is based on supply, to some degree,” Golden said. “But we could probably print up to 10,000 face shields a week.” 

Currently, that’s not needed, although like many things regarding the coronavirus pandemic, conditions change frequently. So, they’re working with New York State to get certified to ramp up production even further.  

“We’re in a unique spot to help with this,” Golden said. “And we’re glad to do it.” 

3D Printing Protection

While the college’s general services department is able to produce PPE on an industrial scale, with the recent recommendation by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that all individuals wear masks when going out, every additional one that can be produced becomes critical. And across the college, an all-hands-on-deck mentality has taken place, particularly in the School of Humanities and Sciences. 

“On March 25, Cornell’s Weill Medical sent a call out for people with 3-D printers to help print the face shields, as well as the frame that the face shield goes into,” said Jennifer Mellott, an equipment and laboratory specialist in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “The physics department has two LulzBot TAZ printers and four MakerBot Replicator 2 printers. So associate professor of physics and astronomy Matthew Price and I got special permission to come to campus and retrieve the printers and materials.” 

“This is a way to do a small part to help with a big thing. Our faculty have an orientation to pull together, work with other communities, and get something accomplished together.” 

Roy Westwater, instructor of computer science

Susan Allen, professor of environmental studies and sciences, also donated LulzBot TAZ and an Ultimaker printer. Those supplies were distributed to Price, Dana Professor of Physics and Astronomy Luke Keller, assistant professor of physics and astronomy Jerome Fung, and instructor of computer science Roy Westwater 

Westwater, who also is the founder and lead mentor of the robotics team at Charles O. Dickerson High School in Trumansburg, had two printers from the high school in addition to his personal one. He and his son Max, who is a senior robotics engineering and computer science major at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, have turned their home into a makeshift print shop. 

“We’ve got printers running 10 to 12 hours, and the capacity to produce hundreds of pieces of PPE a week,” Roy Westwater said.  

Price is running a slightly smaller operation, but he, Fung, and Keller are producing approximately 300 units a week, many of which have gone to local healthcare providers in Ithaca, Cortland and Oneida. 

“This is a way to do a small part to help with a big thing,” Westwater said of the group’s efforts. “It’s a natural fit for us. Not only do we have the equipment, and know how to use it, our faculty have an orientation to pull together, work with other communities, and get something accomplished together.” 

Sewing Compassion

Mask sewed by Adrienne Huffman

One of the masks produced by the Ithaca Mask Makers group started by Adrienne Huffman ’21

Not every effort requires high-tech equipment, however. Adrienne Huffman ’21, a television-radio major, founded the Ithaca Mask Makers group to sew PPE for the general public. Started on Reddit, the group consists of 15-20 individuals, who are running a virtual assembly line to produce masks for people to wear. Some group members cut out fabric patterns, while others use sewing machines to stitch the masks together. Huffman’s mother distributes materials and patterns, and all the work is done without direct human contact.

 “Most of us have never met in person,” she said. “We’re all just doing our task from home, putting it all together from afar.”

So far, the group has produced dozens of masks in a beta test mode and launched a website where people can donate materials, order a mask or join the team. 

“As we learn and adapt our methods, we’re hoping to be able to produce a lot more than that each week,” she said.

The goal is to increase the supply of everyday masks for the general public so that people who need to wear the specialized N-95 masks, such as first responders and healthcare workers, will still have access to them.

“I’ve always been inspired by what can happen when groups of people come together to accomplish something important,” Huffman told the Ithaca Times. “A group with a focused purpose becomes greater than the sum of its parts, and this group is no different. We have identified a need and we are committed to doing our part to address that need. I can’t, in good conscience, take credit for what’s happening here because I am not doing this alone.”