ASHLAND -- As the need for personal protective equipment (PPE) continues, Ashland County residents have begun donating their own supplies to the Ashland County Emergency Management Agency.
Some are tackling the issue by sewing cloth masks, others by 3D printing plastic face shields.
Since last week, the owners of approximately 20 3D printers across Ashland County have mobilized to manufacture face shields for employees at area nursing homes, hospitals and soon for retail and restaurant workers, too.
Launched and led by Ashland resident and business owner Josh Hildebrand, the Ashland County Open Source COVID-19 Medical Supplies Facebook Group operates as a local version of the similarly named international group formed on social media as a place to facilitate collaboration and share open-source designs for key supplies.
The local initiative is not affiliated with the larger organization, but the purpose aligns: to fulfill the needs of health care professionals as quickly as possible.
"Here in Ashland, our cases have not began to pile up yet, but already it's hitting healthcare providers," said Hildebrand about his conversations with local nursing homes. "We were hearing about lack of supplies and the risk that poses, and so I reached out to see if that's happening here, and the answer was, absolutely yes."
The University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center has acted to conserve PPE by temporarily closing some facilities and with strict protocol for PPE usage, said the hospital's communications and development manager Kathy Witmer.
UH Samaritan Medical Center announced the closure of its New London Urgent Care in the northern part of Ashland County Thursday. It followed Friday morning -- less than 24 hours later -- with news that UH Kettering Urgent Care and the osteopathic office of Dr. Megan Oberhauser in Loudonville would close, too.
According to Witmer, Ashland County received only 1 percent of its recent PPE request from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). The organization manages distribution of PPE for all care providers in the county which includes EMS, nursing homes, public health and more.
"Currently, we have adequate supplies of Personal Protective Equipment at Samaritan. We also continue to pursue additional supplies as production ramps up worldwide," Witmer said. "We have very strict protocols for our caregivers on the use of PPE in order to protect our caregivers and patients while still conserving PPE."
The plastic shields like cloth masks are not considered PPE by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), but are an accessible alternative when the other face masks are not available. Ideally, the two are used together, but even cloth masks are in high demand now.
Local seamstresses and others across Ashland County -- some who had never sat behind a sewing machine before -- are working long hours to meet the demand for masks for health care workers, their neighbors and friends.
As quickly as the cloth masks are made, they find purpose. The supply struggles to keep up with the demand, especially as seamstresses face new challenges, such as elastic shortages. Some buy hairbands and headbands to repurpose. Others are using new patterns to make masks with ribbon and cloth ties.
Hildebrand doesn't have a sewing machine. But he does own a 3D printer. He recognized the escalating situation, and two weeks after launching an app to organize the ever-changing business hours across Ashland County, the owner of FiveForge set out to organize local resources and fill a local need.
Ashland County residents who have volunteered their time and 3D printers receive orders through a virtual assembly line. They follow a pattern, and create face shields from their own "remote factories."
Hildebrand is among those who operate the printers from their homes. At Mapleton School District, a teacher has committed to operating the school's multiple printers regularly. All donate their time, materials and machine for the production.
About 100 shields could currently be produced per day, Hildebrand estimated. The group has so far been experimenting, producing shields for local nursing home employees.
The shields will ultimately be sold for less than $3 apiece, Hildebrand said.
"If the new design is accepted and used well, I could get us to make 180 per day (at a lower price)," Hildebrand said. "It's inexpensive because we have people donating their time and resources. There's no labor costs; there's no electric cost; and there's not the wear and tear on the machines."
He did express intentions to donate the shields if the price is unattainable for healthcare facilities.