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Face shields are critical for those working on the front line of the coronavirus. But like other pieces of PPE, they often aren't available. One volunteer group using 3D printers at home has made nearly 40,000 face shields for health care workers and first responders from New Jersey to the Navajo Nation. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas reports.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Jacob Ezzo is a beloved middle school chorus teacher in South Orange, N.J., who's earned commendations for his ability to get kids to love music.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Singing) Seasons of love.
TSIOULCAS: In mid-March, his school was suspended.
JACOB EZZO: We went home Friday on that half day thinking it was just going to be a 72-hour, use up our snow days, clean the school and come back.
TSIOULCAS: Ezzo had bought himself a 3D printer a few months earlier. He'd seen some blueprints online for face shields. And he figured he'd experiment over the long weekend.
EZZO: It was on that Sunday I printed off my first one. So I was like, well, I have Monday off. I'll, you know, (laughter) I'll do something interesting.
TSIOULCAS: He thought this would be a short-term project to help out.
EZZO: When we all started this, we thought we're acting as a stopgap. You know, we're plugging a small hole in the dam until the big industries come online and take over. And they just never came.
TSIOULCAS: Soon, Ezzo had connected with dozens of other 3D-printing volunteers not just in his community, but across New Jersey. And just as Ezzo encourages his students to sing, he helped connect some of them with the volunteer effort.
ZUBIN KREMER GUHA: One of the biggest things I do is the robotics club. That's actually how I first got into 3D printing to, like, make parts for those robots.
TSIOULCAS: Eighteen-year-old Zubin Kremer Guha is a high school senior from South Orange.
KREMER GUHA: So I saw the opportunity where I could help people out in this hard time. So I thought, if I can, why not?
TSIOULCAS: So far, he's printed more than 3,000 face shields at his home on several machines that hum away 24 hours a day...
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINE HUMMING)
TSIOULCAS: ...While he's finishing up his senior year and taking his AP exams. His mom, Devyani Guha, says he's going through an astonishing amount of plastic filament to print the shields.
DEVYANI GUHA: Zubin actually did some personal fundraising. And we stockpiled what at that time seemed like a huge number of filament. We got 26 spools. And we thought, oh, my God, we're set.
TSIOULCAS: They weren't. They've since bought about 300 spools, and their house has been taken over by those and the printers. So far, the volunteers have delivered more than 38,000 face shields. Frances Jacobus-Parker is another volunteer in Princeton. She says needs are shifting away from hospitals and more towards long-term care facilities like nursing homes. And they've made sure that their PPE is usable by everyone.
FRANCES JACOBUS-PARKER: We streamlined the sort of processes so that hospitals were receiving a kind of uniform-recommended, approved product. And we learned early that one of the things that was hard for hospital people was dealing with this influx of various kinds of approved and not-approved PPE and that a lot of it wasn't getting used.
TSIOULCAS: And Jacob Ezzo says the volunteers will keep making the face shields as long as they're needed.
EZZO: Every step of the way, there is a whole team of people that have stepped up selflessly just to help out, which I think has been just absolutely incredible. And we've been able to take whoever has shown up wanting and willing to help, whether they are a grandparent or 7 years old.
TSIOULCAS: The littlest volunteers are helping to assemble the shields so the older volunteers can ship them or drive them to the people who need them.
Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New Jersey.
(SOUNDBITE OF HYAKKEI'S "MEMORIES OF THE SKY")
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