Local technology and engineering teachers are joining the fight against COVID-19.

Working from their home bunkers, aka basements, and armed with 3D printers and laser cutters, they are furiously turning out plastic face shields for nurses, doctors and others on the frontlines.

Command headquarters? Discover Camp in Hawthorne. Founded by public schoolteachers Anthony and Sabrina Rich, it caters to kids interested in science and technology. Think drones instead of plastic lace lanyards.

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Its five-star general is David O’Neil, an Eastchester educator. And its intrepid foot soldiers include Somers teachers Rich DeVito, Ed Amato and Matt Lugo.

According to DeVito, the summer camp typically loans out its 3D printers and other devices to its instructors so they can be put to good use during the school year instead of gathering dust in storage. So far, about 50 printers have been deployed in the face shield campaign.

Not long after the coronavirus fired its first salvo, it became evident that medical workers and other first responders didn’t have enough PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) such as masks and gloves in their arsenal.

Quilters and crafters hit their sewing machines to make fabric masks. While public health officials say those won’t protect wearers from getting sick, the masks will help prevent them from spreading the virus to others.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on the issue, recommending using cloth face coverings in grocery stores, pharmacies and other public settings where it’s hard to stay 6 feet apart from others.

Surgical masks or specialized N95 masks should be reserved for health care providers, the CDC said.

On Saturday, April 4, the Somers Education Foundation announced that its board had approved a grant request from DeVito, Amato and Lugo, who were hoping to buy three more 3D machines. The SEF voted to fund five at a total cost of $3,500.

“We were so taken with what they were doing, we wanted to do a little more. It was a no-brainer,” SEF president Glenn Hintze said on Monday, April 6.

The shield itself is made of PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate glycol) plastic, which, while tough, can be easily vacuumed, pressure formed and cut to specific shapes. Masks are worn underneath. The shield adds an extra layer of protection for both the caregiver and patient.

So far, some of the places Discover Camp and crew have been able to get shields to are a New York City hospital, Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow and to EMS workers and firefighters in southern Westchester.

It and the Somers battalion also aim to help out Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, Danbury Hospital in western Connecticut and any relevant organization that needs them, DeVito said.

As you can imagine, PETG’s in high demand now, but the teachers have managed to ferret out a substantial supply.

Because it comes in huge sheets, the plastic’s being cut down to manageable pieces at a shop in Yonkers. Once that’s in hand, they should be able to ramp up production.

“We’re in kind of a holding pattern right now,” DeVito said on Friday, April 3.

Printing each headband and chin piece is time-consuming. The set takes about two and a half hours to print.

“That’s the bottleneck,” he added, emphasizing that it’s crucial that more makers are recruited before the expected tsunami of COVID-19 patients hits medical facilities.

Anyone interested in enlisting in the effort should contact DeVito at rdevito@somersschools.org. He will send them the files, instructions and an address where the finished pieces can be sent for assembly and distribution.

A GoFundMe page has been set up by Rich, O’Neil and team members Steve Martin, a Rockland County teacher; JP Kaminski, a Dobbs Ferry teacher; and Vinny Garrison, a Nanuet teacher and certified drone videographer.

The goal is to raise $50,000 to buy raw materials. (One spool of the plastic filament costs around $20. Each shield, between $3 and $5 to make.) The aforementioned plastic, enough to make 16,000 shields, costs about $12,000, Rich said. 

As of Monday, April 6, the Discover Camp team had raised $48,926.

Garrison said Friday, April 3, that he was excited by the number of people who have supported the project and hopes that “more dedicated people” join the team.

“The shields are getting in the hands, and more importantly, on the heads of the people that need them most,” he added.

One of those dedicated makers, a Chappaqua dad of two, just happened to be dropping off a box of shield parts as Rich was talking to a reporter on Monday, April 6.

Leonid Gorkin, a software engineer, has two 3D printers at home. So far he’s pretty much used them for fun, like making toys for his 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter.

But now he’s turned them toward the COVID-19 cause.

“It’s a national emergency. We really can’t do much besides sitting at home,” said Gorkin, who plans to make as many sets as possible.

“This is a true grassroots effort,” said Rich, after receiving the donated parts.

Gorkin’s son is very interested in technology and hopes to go to Discover Camp this summer. He just used the Edible Raspberry Pi, a small but powerful electronic device, to design and print a lunch box, which will come in handy when schools reopen.

Meanwhile, the medical heroes who have gotten the shields are beyond thrilled.

Said Helen Shine, a member of the Phelps ICU team, in a text to Garrison: “Words cannot express the gratitude for your thoughtfulness. It means so much to me and my colleagues at Phelps ICU. They are perfect and I’ve been wearing them all day.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

“It’s all starting to blow up; it’s really amazing,” said DeVito.

To donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/shields-for-heroes. The site can also be found by typing Anthony Rich in the GoFundMe search box.

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