I use my pizza oven to throw masks for nurses

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Hospital admissions for coronavirus are expected to peak in Chicago, Illinois, sometime in the next two weeks. In order to prevent the type of medical supply shortage seen in New York, average Chicagoans are rushing to meet this need.

On March 16, in accordance with an order from the state’s governor prohibiting all bars and restaurants from serving customers internally, Dimo’s Pizza closed its dining room doors.

“We can no longer serve the slice,” says owner Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau. “There is 70% of our income. “

Nevertheless, he recognized that the measures were necessary.

He had been following the news of the coronavirus epidemic for weeks and the same weekend that Illinois closed its restaurants, New York saw the start of a terrifying wave of cases.

From March 15 to March 16, the number of cases more than doubled overnight.

Nurses and doctors reported a shortage of essential pieces of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gowns and N95 gloves. Some had to wash and reuse the masks.

Looking 800 miles away, in a large metropolitan city that had not yet – but certainly felt – the full force of the pandemic, Syrkin-Nikolau wanted to help prevent a similar shortage of supplies in Chicago.

“It seems unlikely that a pizzeria can produce PPE, but the more I have told people about it …”, he recalls. “It seems far-fetched but it is not. “

After consulting with some of his engineering friends and purchasing large sheets of acrylic, Syrkin-Nikolau and his staff began making face shields for healthcare workers. The industrial pizza oven heats the acrylic until it is soft enough to fold into the right shape, then it is attached to a foam strap and straps.

“It’s really a very fast process,” he says. “Whether it’s slinging slices or acrylic slinging, these are similar principles. “

Across the city, Chicagoans are racing to take advantage of the mismatch between the surge in New York and the planned climb in Chicago, which at this point may already have started. Governor JB Pritzker announced Thursday the largest one-day increase in Covid-19 deaths in the state: 82. As of April 9, there were 6,619 cases in the city of Chicago and 196 deaths.

Although none of the largest hospitals in the Chicago area has reported a supply shortage, officials in Illinois have described the supply market as “the wild west.”

In one case, a government employee had to go to a bank with a check for $ 3.4 million (£ 2.7 million) in order to buy N95 masks from $ 1.5 million to a supplier in China before other bidders can buy them.

Smaller hospitals serving low-income Chicagoans, such as the Loretto Hospital on the West Side, said their supply of masks and gowns was low.

These concerns have inspired Chicagoans like Jacqueline Morano, a member of the Masks for Chicago campaign, to do their utmost to collect, manufacture or buy PPE.

“There is a potential for things to get scary. We are a metropolis, ”she says. “The texts I receive from my friends in New York hospitals are things you will never want to read in your lifetime. “

The campaign for which Morano has raised funds, Masks for Chicago, is seeking and purchasing 1 million N95 masks using one of its founder’s manufacturing contacts in Shenzhen, China.

They believe this should be enough to cover five Chicago hospitals for two weeks. They have already received 44,150 masks and placed orders for more than 75,000 others, jostling alongside other cities and even countries as they try to secure orders.

These efforts are happening on a large and small scale throughout the city. Michael Clifford, a former patent attorney who recently used his DIY YouTube channel full-time, began using his 3D printer to produce plastic eyebrows for face shields.

He got plans from other members of the global design community who shared them for free. When the Masks for Chicago campaign received 500 N95 masks with broken straps, Clifford printed a batch of S-hooks for easy attachment. He just bought a second 3D printer to try to increase production.

“Beyond Chicago, there are people doing this all over the world right now,” he says.

In some cases, hospitals contact directly. Haven Allen is the CEO and co-founder of MHub, a non-profit manufacturing company which, after closing its 63,000 square foot facility last month, is now using its inactive equipment, materials and engineers to help Chicago area hospitals to stock up.

Their first project – to build an inexpensive, easy-to-make ventilator from off-the-shelf materials.

“We wanted to bring the price down to around $ 350 a unit,” he said.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital then called. They were concerned about the lack of visors. Some volunteer engineers quickly changed gears.

“In just a few hours, they created a few prototypes with the materials they had on site,” said Megan McCann, a spokesperson for Northwestern. “The first batch of face protection was delivered to Northwestern Memorial Hospital the week of March 30. These will go directly to doctors, nurses and staff caring for patients with Covid-19. “

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Allen says the fan prototypes will be ready this week, and he wants to make the plans free and available to anyone who wants to reproduce them.

The use of PPE by volunteers, DIY manufacturers and uncontrolled suppliers in China, as opposed to licensed suppliers, can be tricky for hospitals.

Certain products must be approved by the Centers for Disease Control or the Food and Drug Administration before a hospital can accept them.

But with products as simple as face shields – and with such a high fear of infection – some healthcare workers seem ready to use whatever is provided instead of nothing.

“Can I do something that is 95% as good as what 3M would do?” It’s not perfect, but it’s still 95% better than nothing, “says Clifford. “We cannot discuss the little things. We have to make sure that we have the best protection possible because of the shortage. “

Tricia Rae Pendergrast is a first year medical student and leader of a group of 400 medical students from the Chicago area who spend their time calling local businesses and soliciting donations of N95 masks, protective coveralls and other PPE.

She says they are most successful with local labs and construction companies, but cannot donate to hospitals. Instead, they put them directly in the hands of health care workers who request them.

“They make the decision to use them. They understand that they are not normal protective gear, “she said. “In times of crisis, with limited and limited resources, there is an ethical and legal precedent for doing the most good for the greatest number and that is what we are doing here. “

At Dimo’s Pizza, Syrkin-Nikolau says they have been able to fulfill a few orders for smaller organizations, such as a home for the homeless and a small pediatric practice.

He estimates they can make 3,000 shields a week. And even if he says he can’t afford to donate the shields, selling them for $ 3 a piece, he can keep his employees employed and make supplies available during the Chicago coronavirus outbreak.

“Everywhere I look, in every segment, everyone steps in to do whatever they can, as soon as possible,” he said. “I think it’s the only thing I hold on to. “

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