I, perhaps like many of you reading this, am neither a healthcare worker nor a celebrity, nor someone with a powerful network of people and resources. I’m just a regular person who has chosen to live in New York City, the current US epicenter of the novel coronavirus.
Like many of us, I have felt not only helpless but purposeless in the course of this pandemic, where it seems my only contribution to fighting it is to stay inside, occasionally get groceries for high-risk neighbors, and lie to my parents about the current status in NYC so they didn’t endlessly worry about me.
I am, however, an artist and a maker, and as an occupational hazard I have in the course of my career amassed a collection of way too many materials, tools, and old artworks. This came into play unexpectedly when I was recently forwarded an email out of the blue from someone along a tendril network of friends that every New Yorker cultivates over time.
The email discussed the dire need for personal protective equipment (PPE) for nurses and doctors working in hospitals, and included DIY instructions for face shields made from just flexible clear plastic and elastic. I realized I had one of the key components in my stockpile of art clutter: I had flexible clear plastic, but no elastic.
I messaged the person who put out the original call, Sarah Wang, and told her I could make shields but I needed elastic. She said she could manage to get the elastic. I dug out an old piece of art I had made from clear plastic film, and was able to cut out 50 face shields from the material. Then I listed the shields, along with some vinyl gloves, protective eye wear, and even an old pair of ski goggles, on an online list of donations available for pick-up and requests. She managed to get me elastic from a store and then drive over to my apartment and place it on the roof of her car for me to pick up while she remained inside her car, so that we maintained the requisite distance to prevent contact that can spread the Covid-19 virus. When I completed the 50 face shields two days later, she drove back to pick up the finished product for delivery to a hospital.
Importantly, the instructions I’m sharing today are not my design—I simply followed the instructions, and am doing my best to broadcast them out to the world. The design is the work of the Open Face PPE Project and the New York University COVID-19 Task Force, which includes experts from NYU Langone Health, NYU School of Global Public Health, and NYU Tandon School of Engineering, which led the design process. The face shield models have been tested inside and outside of the US, and are currently in use in medical settings. The task force is encouraging manufacturers to use these designs and deploy them to their local hospitals—but people like you and me can pitch in, too. Sinai BioDesign, a lab within Mount Sinai Hospital System, NYC, has tested and validated basic clinical functionality of these devices with success and some of their manufacturers have received ANSI certification for face shield droplet and splash hazard compliance.
I’m also aware that not everyone has a stockpile of acetate plastic sheets at their disposal. The materials, however, are fairly easy to source, whether through your own network, at a local hardware store (which remain open as they are an essential business). The Open Face PPE Project instructions also include a bill of materials with suggested online retailers.
Importantly, you can create these no matter where you are. Call up your local hospitals and ask where you can leave donations of PPE. If you don’t know where to start, you can also try contacting churches, mosques or temples, schools, or places that have a ready network of volunteers, to see what supplies you can get together, and who is interested in joining in. The people I worked with also have a site for all US-based PPE requests and donations.
I do not know how many people in total conspired to make this to happen, but it is a testament to the decentralized hive of the city, and to the power of people to come together in a crisis to help each other without even meeting each other. There’s an obvious troubling side to this, too, in that a shortage of personal protective equipment in hospitals and clinics around the country should not be our problem to fix, and although we all can do what we can, we know it won’t be enough. Protecting healthcare workers so that they can protect all of us feels like our duty, even though it shouldn’t be our responsibility.
How to make your DIY face shield
Tools you’ll need: Scissors or cutting blade, hole punch, paper, marker.
Materials you’ll need: For the face shield and forehead strap:12.5″ x 10.25″ and 1″x 0.75″ sheets of acetate, Mylar, PETm polycarbonate, or any type of clear plastic film (0.007″ to .01″ thickness); Elastic with at least 3/8″ or 1/2″ width.
1. Print out or trace the patterns using these links for the face shield and headband. You can also use the step-by-step guide from the Open Face PPE Project site for full details and resources. If you’re printing the instructions, make sure the shield and headband print at the proper size. The images in this article are not to scale, especially if you’re viewing on a mobile device). For a full adult-sized face shield, you can work with sheets of film of at least 12.5″x10.25″.
2. Trace the patterns onto the film.
3. Cut the film with scissors or blade.
4. Cut elastic into 16-inch-long sections. Some 17-inch pieces will provide a better fit for those with long hair and hats for the full sized model.
5. Feed the elastic strap through the outer hole, then through the inner hole back out.
6. With the elastic fed through both holes, create a knot on the short end of the elastic to secure it. Tie the knot as close to the end of the elastic as possible.
7. Repeat steps 3 and 4 on the holes on other side of the shield. Making sure to tie both knots on the outside of the shield.
8. With slits facing down, slide the middle tab on one end of the headband through the elastic loop on the inside of the shield.
You can download this PDF file for assembly instruction for your finished face shield, and watch this instructional video.
Once assembled, your finish face shield should look like this:
If you want to make a smaller-sized face shield, you can use an 8.5″x11″ sheet of transparency paper, for those of us who might still use a relic called an overhead projector; or you can order transparency sheets online from stores like Staples or OfficeDepot.
I am grateful to be a leaf that can feed the branch that grows to reach farther outward, to hopefully help grow another leaf. As gratified as I am to be able to contribute to the cause by repurposing old artworks and materials into something potentially life-saving, this is the affirmation I did not need in regards to my hoarding. It did fulfill my hope that someday one item in my collections could be useful; just not in the way I ever would have expected.
If you’re interested or capable of conducting further testing in hospital settings, please reach out via firstname.lastname@example.org. Special thanks to James Yeh for including me on the email list, and tp Sarah Wang and Dana Kopel for doing logistics on pick-ups and deliveries, and for general organization.