Charlottesville shoe company OESH is using its 3-D printers and expertise designing around body features to help meet a need during the coronavirus pandemic.
OESH, along with neighbor Luna Innovations, has designed and is producing a flexible 3-D printed respirator mask that has a tight seal around the edges for use while there is a N95 respirator mask shortage.
Dr. Casey Kerrigan, a Harvard-trained medical doctor and OESH’s owner, said she has been trying to work with her manufacturing contacts in China to get more N95 respirators, but in mid-March she decided to make a mask design that she, and others, could print.
“It’s only because our shoes are made of this material that I know how this material works and could think of how to make this face mask work the way it does,” she said.
N95 respirators are tight-fitting respirators that filter out at least 95% of particles in the air, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC does not recommend the routine use of these respirators in the community, only for health care personnel who need protection from both airborne and fluid hazards.
When respirators are not available, the CDC is recommending that health care personnel use homemade and non-National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved masks only as a last resort.
OESH, which started using a 3-D printer to print the soles of shoes in 2015, has made the design file available for others with 3-D printers to download and print the masks.
“Then all you need is the flexible filament,” Kerrigan said. “Typically, they print a hard plastic filament, but if you use flexible filament, which is more expensive, that’s what we encourage.”
Kerrigan said the mask is not certified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or the FDA, but that OESH is working to make different sizes for people to get the best fit and tightest seal possible.
“Everyone’s face is different, just like shoes,” she said.
For now, OESH and Luna are giving the masks to emergency medical first responders.
“People have wanted to buy them and we’ve said no, just medical personnel,” Kerrigan said.
The mask has two vents with removable caps for filter material like cut-up surgical gowns, vacuum bags/filters or cotton makeup pads, and it can be washed in a dishwasher, washing machine or by hand.
Luna Innovations, a fiber optic sensing and test and measurement development and manufacturing company, is welding the masks together, adding an aluminum strip on the nose and providing some of the filters.
Kerrigan said OESH has had tremendous support from customers, and started a promotion where if someone buys a pair of shoes, the company will donate a mask.
“Our customers made this happen,” she said. “They were so overwhelming. You know, everybody, I think, wants to help, and we’re willing to take all the help we can get.”
A number of community members have started making other homemade masks and face shields to help with the shortage of supplies.
Brian Calhoun, Rockbridge Guitars co-founder, has made face shields for local health care providers, and has shared how others can make them in a video on Facebook.
Cville Craft Aid is a volunteer-run group directing handcrafted masks, caps and gowns to businesses and organizations working with the public, elderly people and people with compromised immune systems. People can request aid or sign up to volunteer at cvillebio.wixsite.com/cvillecraftaid.
After local pediatrician Dr. Paige Perriello sounded the alarm about low levels of personal protective equipment for health care workers, the group Support Cville, which is organizing information about various local aid groups on its website, started an effort called Equip Cville, to gather needed masks, gloves, cleaners and other gear.
The group is collecting donations and physical goods can be dropped off daily at Champion Brewing Company from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.