Educators help fill demand for personal protective equipment

Idaho educators in science, technology, engineering and math are creating personal protective equipment amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve made hundreds of masks and thousands of filters in recent weeks,” said Timberline High School teacher Greg Hoetker, who’s helped raise nearly $5,000 through a GoFundMe account devoted to the cause.

Hoetker, fellow Boise teacher Tyler Bevis and other local educators make the reusable and rewash-able “Guerrilla Masks” with tight, cotton-polyester woven fabric. So far, dozens have gone to local hospitals, where medical personnel use them in place of N95 masks better equipped for an expected surges of COVID-19 cases, Hoetker said.

Local seamstresses who have lost their jobs amid the pandemic help weave the masks, which Hoetker and Bevin are pitching to “fragile populations,” including those in area nursing homes.

Another part of the push for PPE comes from the Idaho STEM Action Center’s Makers for Equity initiative. Fueled by the #IdahoMakersUnite social media campaign, the effort connects so-called “makers” with health care professionals, essential workers and others in need of protective gear.

The STEM Action Center says hospitals are requesting the PPE, but the largest demand comes from law enforcement, first responders, and employees in doctor’s offices, nursing homes and retirement homes.

Some 200 makers are 3D printing gear, but the STEM Action Center says it needs more volunteers who can sew.

As part of the effort, three teachers from the Burley Junior High 3D print club have made more than 300 3D printed masks for Idahoans on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Math teacher Shelly Rasmussen and science teacher Renee Waterson have 3-D printers spread over their dining room tables, sewing rooms and mudrooms set up to print the “Montana Mask,” a 3D printed mask design the center recommends.

The designers of the Montana Mask are clear that their design has not been fully tested or approved by state and federal governments, and that they are “not intended to replace standard protective equipment … when that equipment is available.”

Still, CDC guidelines have made it clear that on the front-lines, some protection is better than none. In the event that no more masks are available, the agency that recommends professionals resort to face coverings as simple as a bandana or a scarf.

Kaywin Cottle, a Burley computer-science teacher helping with the masks, said she’s seeing the demand: The  group is finishing an order for 100 masks from an Idaho correctional facility.

“It’s exciting to be a part of it, and hopefully we’re actually making a difference,” Cottle said.

Boise State University, the Gizmo CdA Makerspace in Coeur d’Alene and Salmon Public Library are also part of  #IdahoMakersUnite, according to the news release.

Bingham Academy technology and engineering teacher George Lake has also joined the push.

The Blackfoot-based charter school’s two 3D printers have pumped out 20 face shields and 15 masks made of plastic in recent days.

Lake ships these parts to Boise State University’s MakerLab, where they’re assembled into protective gear for area healthcare professionals.

Lake said his masks are being tested for use at Pocatello’s Portneuf Medical Center, with others going to Blackfoot’s Bingham Memorial Hospital.

Idaho Education News reporter Sami Edge contributed to this report. 

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Devin co-hosts "Beyond the Books" online news segments in conjunction with EastIdahoNews.com. He is a 2019 Solutions Journalism Network fellow. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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