The SUNY Potsdam community is helping to make badly needed protective gear and living space available to medical workers and at-risk individuals on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19.
The College has collected hundreds of pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) from around campus for donation to the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department and the county Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and a staff member has used her own seed money to set up a mask-making shop in her basement. Meanwhile, other faculty and staff are using 3D printers to create face shield visors and strap holders for N95 masks, while alumni working in industry are ramping up production of face masks and shields.
Yesterday, SUNY Potsdam staff delivered 118 boxes of gloves (19,000 total), 46 respirators, 60 face masks, 109 sets of goggles and safety glasses and 500 pieces of transparency film to the County EOC, which is directing PPE to the institutions and individuals in greatest need.
Separate from equipment, SUNY Potsdam has set aside free housing in Sisson Hall for any healthcare workers who may need a place to stay — part of the state’s “surge and flex” system, which concentrates medical equipment and personnel where they are most needed. Free secure housing with basic amenities has been offered to medical workers, separate from the College’s remaining residential students.
In addition, the Jerry Welsh Gymnasium in the Maxcy Hall Athletic Complex is a designated Red Cross facility and is available for use by emergency officials. The College has also offered appropriate residence hall spaces as possible locations for local hospitals to add overflow space or create temporary intensive care units if needed.
For her part, faculty member Alexis Foster began sewing masks at home, to send the message that anyone can take part in the fight.
“Helping our community, especially during crisis, is a critical mission,” said Foster, who is the costume shop manager for the SUNY Potsdam Department of Theatre and Dance. “We are strongest together, and being able to show that support through actionable means helps to boost the morale of those performing amazing and essential work.”
Foster heard in the early days of the pandemic that first responders might need cloth masks, and were reusing equipment. She has shipped masks to Albany and to other states, where personnel on the battle lines of the pandemic have asked for assistance. Her focus is on personnel who might not be at the top of the list for equipment — including local first responders and people with special needs or underlying conditions.
“I’ve lost count, but I know I have sewn over 100 at this point,” Foster said. “I plan to keep producing as many as I can until I run out of supplies.”
Foster uses cotton fabric with the tightest weave possible, building masks so they have a pocket between the layers for filtration pieces or masks to be inserted if preferred. She has also created videos and resources to help students and others make their own masks while social distancing. Even people who do not sew can involve themselves in the effort by donating money for supplies, which Foster said can be a lifesaving gift. Anyone with questions about the mask-making process or wanting to request masks or make a donation can reach Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Hubbard, the associate director of the Lougheed Learning Commons, spearheaded a plan developed by SUNY Potsdam faculty and staff to use the College’s 3D printer to create two different styles of mask strap holders, printing about 20 daily. The holders take the pressure off the wearer’s ears during prolonged periods of use and help them adjust the masks without touching their face. The holders are made of a durable, recyclable material called Polylactide, which can be sterilized. In addition, he is now printing four face shield covers a day (it takes about five to six hours to print each one). All of the items will be donated to the county Public Health Department and EOC as well.
“Since the pandemic, universities and individuals all over the state have been collaborating and sharing the 3D files needed for printing these items,” Hubbard said. “We will keep printing until we run out of material, or someone tells us to stop!”
SUNY Potsdam alumni have also stepped up to fill the growing need for cloth masks and PPE. Fashion designer Saad Hajidin ’88 has utilized his women’s athleisure company InPhorm, known for its professional tennis and golf clothing, to ramp up production of thousands of dual-layer washable INP Protective Masks. Seven Crane School of Music alumni also work at D’Addario & Company, which has found a way to use its technology for producing drum heads to manufacture 100,000 FDA-approved face shields per week for healthcare workers.
To find out more about SUNY Potsdam’s response to COVID-19, visit http://www.potsdam.edu/covid19