For Bill Moore, the COVID-19 outbreak is a crisis.
But it’s also an opportunity to use his experience to help his community.
“I went to school to become an engineer because I wanted to help people… It’s something I have been working on my whole life, how can I help people and where can I apply my skills,” Moore said.
After becoming a civil engineer in 1977, Moore went on to spend 35 years working for 3M, eventually managing the 3M plant in Columbia, Missouri. Having recently retired, Moore now lends his time and knowledge to the Columbia STEM Alliance (CSA), of which he is a founding member. The CSA is a non-profit dedicated to engaging as many students as possible in STEM.
On March 27, the CSA received a call from the Harry S. Truman Veterans’ Hospital, requesting assistance in making 500 face shields. The group decided to use their annual budget, which they had set aside for summer camps and programs, to invest in finding a protective and durable face shield. Within days, the CSA had produced a prototype: a sheet of plastic, attached to a 3D printed adjustable headband. Project Face Shield was born.
The design was then sent to the MU Healthcare COVID-19 Task Force. The Task Force is a committee of specialists sourced from the local University of Missouri that has been created to deal with the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee is capable of approving designs for personal protective equipment (PPE) that will be used in local hospitals. Columbia is home to seven hospitals and ten nursing homes, each of which have the potential of experiencing an outbreak of the virus. The approval power that the committee has been given has helped to maximize the amount of PPE in these locations.
After the approval of their prototype, the CSA got to work producing face shields in large quantities. A combination of active community sourcing and word of mouth among the tight-knit community has led to a team of 27 people. This includes 23 Makers, who use their personal 3D printers at home to produce as many face shields as they can. As of April 7, Project Face Shield was outputting about 75 shields a day, and they had a total of 500 shields ready to be distributed. They aimed to reach a production of 100 shields per day by the following week. Completed face shields are sent to the Office of Emergency Management, where they are then distributed.
Project Face Shield has aggressive policies in place to keep their workspaces and their products uncontaminated and sanitary. On April 4 Boone County gave Project Face Shield a building to use as a warehouse for the raw materials that are being used for the shields. Project Face Shield has been limiting the number of people in the building by having a small number of people put together Maker Kits, which contain all of the materials that a Maker would need to produce a face shield, on site, and then delivering the kits to the Makers. Christine Roberson is using her background in Microbiology to advise the group on how to best protect themselves. At her recommendations, actions such as mandatory masks for everyone involved in the process and a 72 hour quarantine for all finished face shields have been implemented. Makers wipe down their materials with a clean cloth while putting together the shields.
Beyond designing a prototype and staying safe, Project Face Shield has also faced a lack of supplies. Materials such as the plastic that they use in the design have been out of stock in multiple places, and are becoming more and more difficult to find. Moore believes it is a result of people across the country taking action to build face shields for healthcare workers, or hoping to make some money by selling masks online.
“[One company] had agreed to sell [materials] to us, we had settled on a price, and this morning I got a call from them and they said ‘Bill, I need you to buy this in the next 10 minutes or it won’t be here’” Moore said.
Moore was able to buy those supplies before it was too late, but sourcing materials continues to be a struggle as the days go by.
Moore has been pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of generosity from the community. A leatherworker has offered to punch holes in headbands that will be used in the face shields. A woman left a check for $1,000 dollars on Moore’s porch, requesting that it be used to buy materials. This is in addition to the volunteers who are working directly with the shields, many of which are staff members at Columbia Public Schools who have previous connections with the CSA.
The CSA is hoping that more donations will mean they can continue to operate with their primary mission to engage students in STEM after the crisis is past, and they are taking donations to both the CSA and Project Face Shield itself.
Looking forward, Project Face Shield hopes to exceed the 12,000 plus face shield request from local hospitals. The first batch of face shields will be sent out April 13, and a portion of those 500 face shields will be sent to several nursing homes in St. Louis. Project Face Shield is also working with the idea of a program that would pay Columbia residents who are out of work to produce face shields.
For now, Project Face Shield will continue to help its community and beyond the best way it knows how: with hard work and a little ingenuity.
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