As we reach the one-year milestone marking the discovery of the first U.S. case, the battle against COVID-19 continues to rage on. Medical teams and healthcare workers are putting their lives on the line every day as caseloads surge across the country, which makes them deserving heroes in all ways.
Shortages in virtually all types of critical medical supplies from PPE and swabs to ventilators and hand sanitizer have made their lifesaving work even more challenging. The solution, in most cases, wasn’t a matter of making more of what was needed. In many instances, there wasn’t enough production capacity to manufacture even a portion of what medical teams were desperate for — and the need grew exponentially as the pandemic surged.
Over the past year, a new kind of hero has emerged: Those who have used their skills, grit and dedication to produce the critically needed supplies. Here is just a sampling of stories about these unsung men and women who are giving everything they’ve got to get more supplies into the hands of doctors, nurses, lab technicians and all who are directly saving patients’ lives.
Many industries and organizations are continually looking for ways to use their expertise and capacity to relieve supply shortages. Some cynics say this desire is intrinsically motivated, given that having more work can help companies ride out the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic. But time and time again, you’ll find extraordinary efforts by those who just want to help the cause. And many of these efforts have also helped workers stay on the job at a time when they might not otherwise have been able to.
One inspiring story is that of Masks On, a nonprofit organization that modified a snorkeling mask to address the PPE shortage. What started as an idea by two anesthesiologists became an engineering feat involving a variety of individuals who had limited medical device expertise, including those from Google and from fields such as CAD, drafting and design.
Car manufacturers like GM and Chrysler made headlines in 2020 when they pivoted to manufacture ventilators. And many major corporations from Honeywell and Apple to Gap and Under Armour shifted their production capabilities to fill crucial gaps in PPE.
However, there are many lesser-known stories about other critical pivots that have made a difference. One is Bednark Studio, a retail display company that pivoted from building displays for companies like Nike to manufacturing disposable face shields, producing millions of pieces and employing hundreds of laid-off non-essential workers. Read more.
The Ventilator Project is just one example of the cross-company, multi-discipline collaboration that’s taking place during the pandemic. The brainchild of robotics entrepreneur Tyler Mantel, this nonprofit has team of more than 200 volunteers across a variety of industries and disciplines. The team’s is addressing the ventilator shortage by creating a better ventilator that can be more readily manufactured. In just 2 weeks, the fourth prototype of their AIRA ventilator was iterated and the team is currently working on bringing the product to market. Read more.
In some cases, researchers are giving up their intellectual property for the greater good. One way the ventilator shortage is being addressed is through the design of a low-cost ventilator by the University of Minnesota in conjunction with Boston Scientific. Once the initial design received FDA emergency use authorization, UMN open-sourced the manufacturing specifications, making their technology readily available to companies worldwide so that more ventilators can be produced more quickly. Read more.
Not all manufacturing heroes are bringing new products to market at record speed. Some are heroes because of their day-to-day contributions. Take for instance Irene Chase, who canceled her trip to Georgia to spend time with her son at Christmas. Her reason? She’d have to quarantine for 2 weeks when she returned. And she just couldn’t do that to her employer.
Irene Chase is a sterile wrap operator at our Puritan plant in Guilford, Maine. Since the pandemic began, she’s worked 10-hour days, six days a week to get more swabs to the front line.
While Irene does earn double or triple pay for hours worked beyond the standard 40, that’s not what motivates this 68-year-old employee to get out of bed most days at 2:30 am. Irene understands just how much each swab she’s wrapping matters: A positive test result can help keep one individual from infecting others. She believes that she’s saving lives, each shift, every day. And we know for a fact, she is. Read more.
Special thanks to all the COVID-19 heroes, those saving lives on the front lines and behind the scenes.