By Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The 3D printing lab of a Northern B.C. school has transformed into a face shield factory, building morale and peace of mind for local front-line health workers.

Robson Valley Jr Academy in McBride has its 3D printers working non-stop to fill orders of 50 face shields to each McBride and District Hospital and the Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops.

“Providing us with these reusable face shields solved a huge problem for us,” said Tanatia Teering, a health aide at McBride and District Hospital.

Workers had been using disposable masks when Jerry Stanley, a teacher at the Academy, asked Teering if they could put re-usable face shields to use.

Even though McBride hadn’t seen an influx of COVID019 patients as other regions have, workers were worried and uncertain, said Teering and the face shields brought huge relief to her colleagues.

While Canada has fared generally well, many jurisdictions around the world are experiencing shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE).

“Now we can just sanitize them and then reuse them after. It really changed morale,” she said.

For Dr. Keith Carter, head of the anesthesiology department at Royal Inland Hospital, Stanley’s face shields will bring some peace of mind. While the hospital still has enough protective gear for staff, given the worldwide shortage and the uncertainty about how long COVID-19 will be a threat, having a small supply of extra PPE on hand just seemed prudent.

“In anesthesia, we have the highest risk job in the hospital when it comes to COVID,” said Carter. Six times riskier, an highest when intubating patients.

“You’re within a foot of the patient’s mouth and they’re coughing,” Carter said. “It doesn’t get much higher risk than that.”

Everyone in his department wears an N95 mast and face shield at all times.

“I have a responsibility as a department head to do the best I can to protect people in my department,” he said. “Having somebody like Jerry in the community who’s able to produce things that we might potentially run out of is huge.”

Like most great projects, the face shield operation began as a modest seed of an idea, that grew.

Last year, Stanley came across online videos of people making hand prosthetics for kids using 3D printing.

“The students were super enthused and excited,” said Stanley.

That led to the school getting certified as an E-Nable chapter of the international non-denominational, Enabling the Future, an organization of volunteers who use open source 3D printing designs to make prosthetics for mostly children around the world.

Students had been in the process of building five prosthetics for individuals in Calgary, New Jersey, Ecuador, England and McBride when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

With students suddenly doing schooling from home, their 3D printing production took a dramatic downturn.

That’s when Stanley came across another online post. This one about using 3D printers to make face shields for health care workers.

“I thought that’s interesting,’ said Stanley. “That’s something we could totally do here.”

Teering was the mother of one of his students.

We were using disposable face shields which were in short supply already,” said Teering.

Stanley got to work. Since cost was an issue, he went with a design that used office laminator sheets instead the more expensive, less available, polycarbonate.

But the designs he found online were finicky.

“The whole point of this is you want it to be a fast change shield so you can take it off and grab another one,” Stanley said. So, he designed a brow band with a friction fit.

“The sheet just basically clips in and stays there,” said Stanley. “Then you can change out a shield in a matter of a few seconds.”

McBride health care workers wear the face shields for their whole shift, sanitizing the head band and laminator sheets between patients.

All this was enough, but Stanley didn’t stop there. When he learned health workers got sores and pressure points behind their ears from wearing surgical masks, Stanley found another design online.

A simple band that clipped onto the elastics, it holds a mask in place behind the head instead of around the ears.

“When I bought them in yesterday and started handing them out to the staff, there was happy tears because people’s ears were hurting so bad,” said Teering, who distributed 28 of the
Academy’s clips. “My co-worker… literally did a happy dance in the hallway.”

Stanley is now working another design: a piece that fits onto the brow piece to close the gap at the top of the face shield. It snaps on and off easily for sanitization.

“It’ll still let in all the light,” said Stanley. “But keep out the viruses, hopefully.”

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Robson Valley Jr Academy face shields for health workers
Specially-designed snap-on piece (A) that clips into brow of face shield (B) protecting health care workers from virus droplets over the top of the mask. Modified shield clips on 3D printer (C). Face shield with laminator sheet (D). //JERRY STANLEY photos