A Fort McMurray high school teacher’s innovation is bringing some comfort to health-care providers who must now don face masks for their entire shift due to the risk of coronavirus infection.
When Tom MacIsaac, an engineering and robotics teacher at Father Patrick Mercredi Community High School, learned that the school football coach’s wife found wearing the face masks full-time during her shift at the area hospital uncomfortable, he began working on a solution.
MacIsaac knows his way around 3D printers, and coach Kevin Garbuio found a design online for strips of plastics that could anchor the elastic loops of face masks away from the ears.
It never occurred to MacIsaac that wearing a face mask all day could be a problem.
“Kevin asked, ‘Can you make these [anchors]?’ [His] wife and her colleagues were having issues with the elastics on the masks chafing behind their ears, because now they have to wear them for their entire shifts,” MacIsaac says. “Before, the masks would go on and the masks would go off.
“We redesigned [the pattern] to make it a little thinner, so that it would be more malleable. That’s where it started.”
Now, the made-in-Fort-McMurray version of the face mask anchors are being created on two 3D plastic printers at the high school, and production has spread across town.
Keyano College employees stepped up to devote three similar printers to the task; they were aware of the need based on their connections to health professionals established through the school’s health studies programs. Keyano alone is cranking out nearly 100 face mask anchors each day.
When people start wearing masks, they’re going to need some of the strain taken off their ears.
– Tom MacIsaac
MacIsaac, who is still teaching engineering online, says the construction-heavy projects that usually mark the end of the school year won’t occur this year, so some of his own students with 3D printers at home have volunteered to join the effort. Some are tweaking the anchor design to help them stay in place across a wider variety of hairstyles and others are taking a look at different personal protective equipment in search of design improvements.
Meanwhile, Garbuio is dropping off Ziploc bags of the free devices to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre in the oilsands city.
MacIsaac says front-line health-care workers won’t be the only ones grappling with face masks as the country returns to a new normal.
Although the recent flooding has resulted in suspension of the the 3D printing of the mask anchors, MacIssac notes that there may be a cottage industry in the making.
“I can’t see how a nurse can do this for a 12-hour shift,” he added. “When people start wearing masks, they’re going to need some of the strain taken off their ears.”
— Steve Bonisteel, Greenlight Creative
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