Staff and students working to keep health care workers safe

April 17, 2020
Student with 3D printed items

Faculty and students from Stillwater Area Public Schools are using district 3D printers to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

Doctors, nurses and first responders have reported shortages of protective gear locally and across the country. Stillwater Middle School technology para Emily Rauchwarter read about people printing 3D ear relief straps for face masks and she wanted to do the same. She brought her idea to Design and Make teachers Matt Howe (Oak-Land Middle School) and Chris Fahey (Stillwater Middle School) and they jumped into action.

“Being fortunate enough to have such high end equipment for our students at school, meant we couldn’t simply let the equipment sit idle during this time of need,” said Howe. “Knowing the talent of our staff and students, I knew I could take advantage of their skills.”

The three, along with IT support technician Jeanette Wink, their own kids and OMS eighth grader James Daum have all been producing items at home using about a dozen district printers.

They’re printing “ear savers” - a plastic device worn at the back of the head to hold face mask straps instead of behind the ears which can cause discomfort and even bleeding.

In addition, they’re making face shields by combining 3D printed plastic headbands with transparencies that were used with old overhead projectors. The face shield is meant for health care workers to use as an extra layer of protection over N95 masks. 

So far they’ve cranked out more than 1,000 ear savers and 225 face shields. The items have been given to Lakeview and Regions hospitals, the Minneapolis Police Department, several long term care facilities, as well as one of our own district custodians.

Workers at Regions Hospital who received a package of ear savers were thrilled. One nurse said, "It was like Christmas here when I brought the bag in.”

Rauchwarter says it’s empowering to know that a small piece of plastic, printed on a district 3D printer, can make such a big difference.

“It feels good to give back in a small way to the men and women who are selflessly giving so much of themselves during these times,” she said. 

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