As the COVID-19 crisis grew during March, several third-year Einstein medical students got together to see how they could help with the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in New York.
So, equipped with laptops and phones and determined to make a difference, they reached out to each other and to other medical students across New York City to figure out how they could obtain PPE that would help protect hospital workers from the COVID-19 virus.
“A lot of people were starting their own construction projects for face masks and face shields and sending us information about how we could do it,” said third-year medical student Rachel Weinstock, who is one of the five key organizers of the project, along with fellow third-year medical students Anna Bitners, Alexis Corcoran, Jennifer Luk, and Bryan Szeglin. “So we decided we had to make it happen.”
A Streamlined Operation
In just a matter of a few days, approximately 50 medical and Ph.D. students signed up to help, and in the first week of April the volunteers have churned out, assembly-line style, hundreds of surgical-grade face masks and face shields. Though not N95 respirators, which can only be produced in specially equipped factories, face masks and face shields can help block large-particle droplets, splashes, and sprays that may contain viruses from reaching the wearer’s mouth and nose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Working every day in four-hour shifts in Lubin Dining Hall and the Falk Recreation Center’s basketball court, Einstein student volunteers are continuing their efforts, all the while adhering to proper social distancing protocol.
“More and more people are stepping up,” Ms. Weinstock said, thanks to an email blast sent to all Einstein students asking for help.
The face masks and face shields, which the students say have been constructed to meet CDC standards, are being donated to Montefiore, where they will be vetted and inspected before being distributed, said Jared Shapiro, Ph.D., M.P.H., senior director for environmental health and safety at Montefiore.
“Everyone is appreciative, and we will use the masks and shields where they are most appropriate and useful.” said Irene Blanco, M.D., MS., associate dean for diversity enhancement at Einstein and a rheumatologist at Montefiore.
The students did all of the leg work and heavy lifting. They were creative and nimble; we helped get logistical obstacles out of the way and they took off. My heart swells. I am moved by their spirit. I just can’t say enough.
Irene Blanco, M.D., M.S.
No Sewing Required
Before any mask-making could begin, the student organizers knew they had to keep it simple. “Our initial designs for face masks required sewing machines,” Ms. Weinstock said. But the students knew speed was essential, so they looked instead for kits with fabric and ties that they could connect with staples and glue, with twist ties that could ensure a snug fit across the nose.
They found what they were looking for after consulting with a New York City-based COVID-19 medical student coalition called PPE2NYC, which connected them to Pamela Luk, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon based in Arcadia, California, who wanted to help New York City hospitals with PPE supplies. Dr. Luk donated enough kits to Einstein to construct 5,000 face masks.
To better protect healthcare workers from the COVID-19 virus, the students wanted to also supply vinyl face shields that could be worn over the face masks. The group looked for suitable face shield templates, consulting with Theresa Madaline, M.D., Montefiore Health System’s healthcare epidemiologist, along with student co-advisers Dr. Blanco and Sheira Schlair, M.D., M.S., co-director of Einstein’s introduction to clinical medicine curriculum.
“We made different prototypes,” Ms. Corcoran said, “and we tried to improve on the design by making them less constricting and less likely to fog up.” But she said that after doing some research they realized that making the shields more flexible also made them more susceptible to getting contaminated by water droplets, so they scrapped that idea. “It’s nice that we have students who are thinking outside the box, but we had to stick with evidence-based designs,” she said.
‘A Miracle Worker’
All they needed now were the materials for the face shields. “It seemed like it was taking us a very long time to figure out the right foam and elastic we needed for these face shields,” Ms. Corcoran said. “And then somehow, Jenn [Luk]—she's a miracle worker—she found someone who could donate enough vinyl material to make 2,000 face shields. That was incredible, and it let us hit the ground running.”
The donation of marine-grade vinyl sheeting, along with a grant of $7,500 from Einstein’s Community Based Service Learning program (CBSL), enabled the students to buy enough polyurethane foam, braided elastic, and high-quality mounting tape to get started on the 6,700 face shields they plan to construct. “I am so proud of this task force and the amazing work and spirit that they have shown in this tumultuous time,” said Heather Archer-Dyer, M.P.H., CBSL’s director and a co-adviser on the project, along with Drs. Blanco and Schlair.
Einstein Dean Gordon Tomaselli, M.D., said he “cannot begin to thank you all enough. On behalf of our patients, all the people who selflessly work to care for them, and the college, we are moved, inspired, and so proud.”
Dr. Blanco agreed. “These students exemplify our school. Their leadership and commitment to our community will be a model for years to come. They did all of the leg work and heavy lifting. They were creative and nimble; we helped get logistical obstacles out of the way and they took off. My heart swells. I am moved by their spirit. I just can’t say enough.”
Posted on: Monday, April 13, 2020