Reston, VA

Despite its temporary closure, a Reston-based makerspace challenged volunteers to supply hospitals and medical staff with lifesaving personal protective equipment.

Nova Labs, a local volunteer-based non-profit, used to serve as a place of ideation for kids and creative community members but decided to switch focus after health concerns from COVID19 shutdown non-essential businesses and gathering places in Virginia. Lab volunteers are now creating medical masks, plastic face shields and other essential equipment to keep people healthy, according to Margie Foster, one of the project’s coordinators.

Foster said she became involved after another member, Paul Chase, began tinkering with designs for face masks in his basement.

“I jumped in and was like ‘let’s make sure someone needs it, we are informed by the field and make sure we have places to donate it before we go all in,'” Foster said.

To keep volunteers safe and obey social distancing rules, Nova Labs sent 3D printers home with “altruistic” members who knew how to use them, so they can create the plastic pieces for face shields now required by nurses and doctors, Foster said.

Nova Labs isn’t the sole coordinator of this project though, Foster said. Micro Center in Fairfax and its manager Jeff Katz donated 50-kilogram spools of the colorful plastic filament to the cause, which would typically retail over $1,000.

Other volunteers include Eric Offerman from LaserThing.com and Brad Hess at makersmiths.org who have both been laser cutting plastic shields and donating materials as well.

To help with the assembly of the products, Nova Labs recruited local families who are looking for things to do now that schools are closed and some are off work.

Already, the group’s volunteers have managed to send over 550 face shields to Howard University Hospital and other area medical centers, according to Nova Labs Facebook page. In the coming weeks, Foster added that the team has the capability to branch out to adjust to new and unique needs.

In the early stages, some hospitals that originally agreed to use the personal protective equipment made by Nova Labs had to call the program coordinators back since their policies kept changing with uncertain guidelines regarding the ability to accept homemade equipment.

“A lot of the hospital policies are still trying to come up to speed with what is happening,” she said. “They are trying to change on the fly too.”

Going forward, Foster said she is concerned about what will happen as competition for the plastic face mask material intensifies. Already, producers of the shield material are backlogged with orders and prices keep rising due to high demand, according to Foster.

“We are in competition with like Pepsi,” she said. “They use the same material for their bottles.”

Still, team members associated with Nova Lab are dedicated to the cause, according to Foster.

“The bulk of this project has been funded out of pocket by the makers,” she said.

Those interested in helping the cause can donate online.

Photo via Nova Labs/Facebook

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