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Dane Co. companies and UW-Madison partner to help protect heatlhcare workers

(NBC15)
Published: Mar. 22, 2020 at 8:26 PM CDT
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As the coronavirus outbreak spreads, healthcare workers are facing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to keep themselves safe.

Some Dane County companies and UW-Madison professor have stepped up to help.

"[Healthcare workers] anticipating a significant shortage in face shields that are used by healthcare professionals," said Lennon Rodgers, a UW-Madison engineering professor.

Rodgers' wife works as an anesthesiologist at UW Health, and she told Rodgers about the expected shortages as well.

Rodgers and other UW-Madison engineers teamed up with Madison design firm Delve to develop an easy way to create face shields, one of the pieces of PPE used by healthcare workers.

Rodgers said the design was based on the current face shields doctors use.

"My wife tested that very first one and she gave me some pretty critical feedback early on," Rodgers explained.

Rodgers and designers brought the design to local manufacturer Midwest Prototyping. Staff at Midwest Prototyping started finding supplies and making the shields.

"We have the skills, we have the equipment, the bandwidth to help out," said Steve Grundahl, president of Midwest Prototyping.

The face shields can be worn over masks, and the large surface of the shield helps block droplets from people coughing or sneezing.

Midwest Prototyping has made about 1,000 shields, but they are working with local plastic companies like Placon and Plastic Ingenuity to start mass producing.

"They could basically make about 5,000 every hour," said Tim Osswald, a UW-Madison engineering professor who is coordinating efforts with plastic companies.

Right now, the face shields will go to UW Health and Upland Hills Health in Dodgeville, but they could go much further.

"I've gotten people contacting me all the way from Latin America, from Kentucky," Osswald said.

Rodgers has created an online form for people to fill out to request face shields. That form can be found

.

UW and Delve have also released the design for the face shields online, so anyone can use them to help local hospitals in their area. The design and instructions can be found

.

Right now, this team is focusing on face shields, but Grundahl at Midwest Prototyping said he hopes more of their manufacturing equipment and technology can be used to fill other gaps in equipment.

"We're waiting to hear how we can help in a legitimate way," Grundahl said.

Whatever the need is, this team said they want to do anything they can to help workers on the front lines.

"They are our lifesavers and this is to protect them, I think this is something that's really necessary," Osswald said.