East Lansing and Okemos schools look to ease N95 mask shortage

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Courtesy of Dean Buggia
Okemos Public Schools use 3D printers to make masks and filters that will be donated to Sparrow Health System to help ease the medical supply shortages during the COVID-19 crisis.

East Lansing and Okemos school districts located in Ingham County are looking to help ease the spread of the COVID-19 virus by 3D printing N95 masks for healthcare workers on the front lines. They join Michigan State University and other local schools in replicating N95 masks. 

As of 2 p.m. April 9, Michigan had over 20,000 coronavirus cases, making it one of the top five states with COVID-19 cases. The United States has over 363,000 cases and over 15,700 deaths. 

Initial inspiration

The growing number of cases in the area forced several health care providers to run on depleted supplies of necessary PPE for doctors and nurses on the front lines, in the local battle against the virus. 

Sparrow Hospital created a donation list, filled with supplies the community can provide to help medical professionals in their open locations, including Sparrow Hospital in Lansing. 

Courtesy of Dean Buggia 
Dean Buggia, the Okemos High school technology teacher, estimates each mask and filter cost about $1.20 to produce.

One of the items on the donation list, 3D printed N95 masks, caught the eye of both East Lansing Public School’s Technical Director Chrisitan Palasty and TinkrLAB founder and owner Melissa Rabideau. 

“So, I actually had a customer email me this project that she had seen, and I looked into it,” said Rabideau about coming across the project. “I thought this is something that we can actually do, and we don’t have to ask for anyone’s permission. We can just do it right now.” 

Palasty said he saw a similar idea on the news and knew that the school district’s 13 3D printers could help produce 3D printed N95 masks and filters to aid local healthcare workers. 

“I knew they could serve a better purpose than sitting turned off during this outage,” Palasty wrote in an email about the 3D printers and Executive Order 2020-11, which temporarily closed schools from March 16 to April 5. “Right about the same time I reached out to Chris Dehaan, one of our industrial tech teachers (to begin our production process,) TinkrLab reached out and asked about partnering to print the masks. They had the idea . . .  and formed an initiative to get everyone printing masks.” 

Rabideau said after partnering with East Lansing, word got out about their efforts to ease the decreasing medical supply and schools have reached out to her, looking to join the local movement. 

“I just put out there that this was a project that we were doing, and if you have a 3D Printer to let me know,” Rabideau said. “We’ve had the schools reach out to us to be part of it.” 

As of March 30, Rabideau said that TinkrLAB has partnered with more than 25 schools across the state to produce N95 masks and filters, and her inbox continues to fill with potential partners daily. 

“In the 3D printing world, it’s really a small community, so people know each other, and they just call, and they’ve come to us.” 

March 24 tweet from East Lansing Superintendent Dori Leyko
This tweet inspired Okemos High School Assistant Principal Andrea Hallead to have Okemos Public School join in the partnership to print N95 masks.

Initiative sparks community inspiration

Five and a half miles away, another local school wanted to get involved in printing N95 masks. Armed with their own 3D printers and support from the superintendent and the building principals, Okemos High School began its own production process. 

“It’s truly a community effort,” wrote in an email Okemos High School assistant principal Andrea Hallead. “I was reading Twitter and saw a tweet from East Lansing’s superintendent showing what they were able to do with their 3D printers (and wanted to join the partnership.)”

“I emailed our technology teachers . . . to see if we had the capabilities to do this and if they might be interested in partnering with East Lansing,” Okemos High School Assistant Principal Andrea Hallead wrote in an email. “Of course they said yes and had already been talking about it amongst themselves.”

March 25 tweet from Okemos High School Principal Christine Sermak. 
Okemos followed East Lansing Public Schools and TinkrLAB’s initiative to print N95 masks and filters for local first responders.

Dean Buggia, OHS technology teacher, and several other teachers immediately began printing the masks after conducting research to find an effective design. 

Buggia chose a design created by several doctors at Billings Clinic, in Montana. by Dr. Dusty Richardson, Dr. Spencer Zaugg and Colton Zaugg created and shared online

“I calculate that my machines will be able to make about 18-19 masks per spool at a cost of around $1.20 each just for the 3D printed parts,” Buggia wrote in an email about the cost of each mask. “(It takes) about 4.5 hours depending on your settings and your printer (for each mask to be printed.)” 

By Maisy Nielsen

Each mask is made from a plastic filament that Palasty said is ideal for producing N95 masks and the filament comes in rolls and a full roll costs around $35 and makes between 10 and 15 masks and filters. 

“They are cleanable and can be reused,” Palasty said about East Lansing’s 3D printed masks. “The only replaceable component is the filter material and TinkrLab was working with a local hospital to identify the best material and to also identify what was needed for the masks to be acceptable. The TinkrLab initiative has over 100 volunteers and over 200 printers working around the clock to create the N95 mask and face shields.”

Finishing touches and future plans

After the production of the masks and filters, Rabideau’s team of volunteers will collect them and finish preparing them before bringing them to several Sparrow locations in the community. These final preparations include adding elastic to the mask and cleaning each mask and filter before bagging and transporting them to healthcare facilities.  

By Maisy Nielsen

Most of these masks will be prepared at volunteers’ homes due to the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, which Rabideau said makes the cleaning process that much more important. 

“When our people are receiving them on the front lines, they obviously need to make sure that they’re cleaning them as well,” Rabideau said. “But on our end the assembly team is doing all of the finishing side . . . it’s going to be so important that they’ll be sanitized and clean on the way out.” 

WATCH the link below for a look into the printing process. 

In addition to coordinating the production of 3D printed N95 masks and filters, Rabideau said she and her partners are looking for even more ways to help the community’s healthcare workers. 

“While we are doing the masks, we are going to be launching into the face shields, and that is going to be the primary focus coming up,” Rabideau said. “We have about 100,000 shields we want to put out there because the first responders can use them with masks that they already have, and there’s fewer issues with the filters and the safety.

Impact on Ingham County

Rabideau’s plan to produce shields has already helped several first responders in the Lansing Area and are being used on a daily basis.

“We have donated to . . . Lansing Fire Dept . . . and Lansing EMS and are working with several other departments right now,” Rabideau said in an email on April 9.

Several other fire departments around the state including Jackson and Dearborn have received donations.

Although Ingham County has not yet seen a spike in cases, like other counties in Michigan, it is home to both the Lansing and East Lansing communities, which count for over half of the county’s population. 

As of 2 p.m. April 9, the county had 212 reported cases and three deaths from the virus.

By Alexis Ayala
Timeline of COVID-19 precautions taken by Meridian Township. 

Impact on Meridian Township

In the Lansing area, smaller communities like East Lansing and Okemos in Meridian Township are served by Lansing’s first responders.

Michael Hamel, Meridian Township’s Fire Chief, one of the township’s first responders has been working with other township officials to continue the public services needed throughout the community. 

“To limit the spread of COVID-19, the Fire Department is requiring all Firefighter/Paramedics to utilize engineering controls on all calls,” Hamel wrote in an email. “This includes, at a minimum, N-95 masks, protective glasses, and gloves. Our goal is to use these controls to minimize our firefighters and paramedics’ exposure to COVID-19, to maintain a strong workforce.” 

Along with the Fire Department’s precautions, Hamel said the Meridian Township Police Department is limiting in-person responses to protect both officers and residents from the exponential spread of the virus by providing PPE and taking taking temperatures before each shift.

By Alexis Ayala
Data from Ingham County Health Department website – as of 10 p.m. April 7

Getting involved

Rabideau has created a GoFundMe to facilitate monetary donations toward the printing of the masks, including purchasing rolls of filament and cleaning supplies. 

For more on the community support, listen to TinkrLAB’s Melissa Rabideau here:

“The community has really gotten behind it,” Rabideau said about the public’s support. “I think when there is something as scary as what we are going through right now, people need to latch onto something to support and to help . . . So for them to feel like they are part of something, which they are, without our printers, without our suppliers and without our donors, this wouldn’t be anything. It’s truly every single person that’s been part of this print force is what has made it happen.” 

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