Coronavirus: South Bay volunteers making 3D-printed COVID-19 face shields for healthcare workers

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (KGO) -- Hospitals say they're using 15 sets of protective equipment for each patient arriving with a suspected case of COVID-19.

Facing a shortage, Valley Medical Center in San Jose made an appeal and says it has received 1.2 million donated items, such as masks and gloves as they prepare for a surge. The one thing they need most is face shields to protect doctors, nurses and other staff from airborne droplets as the sick cough or sneeze.

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That need has mobilized a small army of volunteers who own or have access to 3D printers. Maker Nexus, a nonprofit in Sunnyvale, has become face shield central.

"Currently we have about 300 people signed up that are active, at-home, shelter-in-place and volunteering to print for us," said Nexus General Manager Eric Hess.

At first, they used a design created in the Czech Republic, but that was refined and improved in collaboration with Valley Medical Center.

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"Within two weeks, they got us three different prototypes," said Michael Elliot, chief operating officer of the Valley Medical Center Foundation. "They were able to make adjustments to it based on the feedback from our medical and our nursing and our infectious control staff, and on Monday, they delivered the first 500 units."

3D printers at Maker Nexus and across Silicon Valley are running around the clock to make the components. Everyone is donating time and absorbing the cost of materials, estimated to run $3 to $5 per shield. As they get up to speed, production is between 500 and 1,000 per day. Area hospitals have asked for 13,000.

Engineer Bill Wang says it takes time.

"Initially the RC2 version takes six hours to print two," the volunteer from Union City said. "Now it takes only four hours to print two."

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Design improvements include a closed top to prevent droplets from getting into the eyes and parts that come apart easily to allow frequent cleaning and sterilization.

"I've looked at their product, and they're excellent," said Dr. Sanjay Kurani, medical director at Valley Medical Center.

It's an example of a community stepping up, giving of their time and resources, and helping to protect frontline workers risking their lives to treat the sick.

The greatest challenge right now is sourcing the special plastic for the face shields, which is in high demand. That is driving up prices for the plastic. Donations are being solicited on the Maker Nexus website.

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