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Nelson Tech Community joins fight against COVID-19

The local tech community has come together to make 1000 face shields for frontline healthcare workers at local hospitals.

The last pandemic came in 1918 when the Spanish flu spread throughout the globe, affecting approximately one-third of the world’s population.

The best advice healthcare professionals gave at the time was the same as the coronavirus — COVID-19, practice social distancing, wash your hands and stay home if you feel sick.

However, those simple instructions cannot stop the spread and destruction caused by COVID-19 once the coronavirus has affected the population.

Frontline healthcare professionals are needed care for patients in hospitals, and those workers need tools and protective PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) to do their jobs.

Which is why, with medical supplies in short supply globally, and locally, the tech community in Nelson is stepping up to assist in any way they can.

“I got in touch with Dr. Michael Vance to see how our local tech community might be able to help,” said Nelson native Lee Wasilenko.

Wasilenko, who after graduating from L.V. Rogers High School in the early 2000’s and went on to graduate from Engineering Physics at UBC. He is also cofounder of Orange Bridge Studios Inc and Anevis Solutions GmbH and part of the local tech community in Nelson.

“They put me in touch with (a doctor at) Kootenay Lake Hospital and we identified a few items that are in short supply that we can help make.”

Wasilenko was told the item at the top of the list was face shields to protect patients and staff.

“There are now many open source projects around the globe sharing information about how to make items like this with 3D printers and laser cutters,” Wasilenko explained.

“After discussing with the doctors we settled on producing a very simple design that can be printed quickly.” 

Wasilenko said Jason Taylor at Selkirk College was also working on this idea along with other volunteers from MIDAS and KAST,so the two tech minds decided coordinate efforts.

Wasilenko said the coordination has been able to source enough material to make 1000 face shields, which should be enough to perform 250 intubations at KBRH — more if a safe sanitization and reuse program for the shields can be implemented.

“We are making the head bands on our 3D printers . . . they take about three hours to print and cost about $0.80 — the cost of materials has gone up recently as supply has become constrained,” Wasilenko said.

“For the clear plastic shields we were luckily able to source some PETG sheets and will be cutting those with laser cutters.”

Wasilenko said it takes about 10 minutes per shield and the cost will be around $0.85 each.

However, there is also a need for foam and elastics for the shields, making the total approximate cost for each unit will be around $2.

“3D printers and laser cutters are mostly used for prototyping and they are not very efficient for manufacturing at scale but in situations like this we can still produce large volumes if we have enough machines and people working on production,” Wasilenko said.

“With that in mind, we are looking for people in our community who own a 3D printer or a laser cutter and are willing to help us produce these face shields.”

Dr. Vance, who graduated in the same class as Wasilenko at L.V. Rogers, said the equipment would be supplied to both Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital in Trail and Kootenay Lake Hospital in Nelson to assist when the expected COVID-19 pandemic hits the West Kootenays.

Vance has set up a GoFundMe page to help with cost of materials. The GoFundMe page passed $6,200 Wednesday afternoon.

“This project is crucial to preventing our healthcare workers from getting ill and being unable to provide care to sick patients,” Dr. Vance said.

“Less healthcare infections will also slow the spread of the virus to patients we see in the office and hospital.” “Protective gear shortages for healthcare workers was a big part of the problem in Italy and we want to prevent that here,” Dr. Vance added.

Wasilenko said news of the idea is spreading throughout the community, and Austin Engineering in Trail has stepped up to assist, and with their expertise, has sped up the process.

COVID-19 is quickly spreading throughout the globe, and in BC.

Statistics released Tuesday by BC’s public health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said cases spiked from March 22 to 23 for a total of 617 in the province.

In that total, 41 are now in Interior Health region.

Wasilenko and Vance are now reaching out to anyone in the tech community in possession of 3D printers who can help this cause.

He said volunteers can get in assit by filling out the the Kootenay COVID Volunteer Form or by joining the Nelson Tech & Knowledge Workers facebook group and responding to the post asking for volunteers,” Wasilenko.

Materials will be supplied.

"We're doing what we can as a community but it's the healthcare workers who are on the frontlines of this crisis that should get all of the recognition and praise for their efforts.” said Wasilenko, wanting to give a "Shout Out" to the frontline healthcare staff.

 “We're doing this for them."