In light of the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended medical institutions enact conservation techniques in order to preserve available stockpiles of medical equipment such as masks, as global supply chains face significant stress over increasing demand.
Amid a shortage of medical-grade masks for institutions and communities throughout the country, some Tri-Valley residents are stepping up to help improve the local mask stock for personal use by producing their own homemade face masks.
From 3D-printed plastic masks to cloth-based masks, residents are finding ways to make alternative masks for themselves or others who want to help protect themselves during the novel coronavirus crisis.
"Our goal is to make sure that people who need some sort of covering can get one, and to not use up the medical-grade ones so they (are available) for medical professionals who need them the most," said Pleasanton resident Jessica Su, who makes and distributes masks for charitable group Tzu Chi USA.
Along with other volunteers from her group Tzu Chi Foundation -- a Buddhist charitable organization based out of Taiwan -- sew and distribute cloth masks made using splash-proof fabric on the outside, a cotton layer inside and a pocket to insert a filter of choice.
Masks are washable, environmentally-friendly and, according to Su, offer users a protective measure that will not deplete the reserves of masks needed by medical professionals and other frontline workers that need to interact with the public during the county's shelter-in-place order.
Materials are sent to local volunteers from the foundation who sew masks, which are then delivered to points of critical need in the community.
According to Su, the Tzu Chi Foundation's Taiwan location has so far sent 300,000 masks to communities worldwide, and Pleasanton's chapter has donated hundreds more to retirement centers, hospitals, dentist offices, smaller medical offices and even real estate agents throughout the region.
"Above all, our main objective is to provide compassion and relief in a safe, mindful way," Tzu Chi Foundation CEO Jackson Chen said in a statement.
While cloth masks are certainly in demand for everyday use, resident Mike Sedlak has been working to create a more durable mask option using his 3D printer.
"I think last week CNN ran an interview with Dr. (Spencer) Zaugg up in Billings and that's what started it. I've had the printer for about a month, I've wanted a printer for years and the price has come down," said Sedlak, who chairs the city of Pleasanton's Human Services Commission and serves as a freelance photographer for the Weekly.
Facemask and face shield designs were created by Dr. Spencer Zaugg, Colton Zaugg and Dr. Dusty Richardson, a neurosurgeon at Billings Clinic in Billings, Mont., who have provided online instructions for residents with 3D printers looking to make their own masks.
Although not approved by the FDA, the masks can be sanitized and reused, and offer a level of customizable protection based off the material used in the filter.
Sedlak did stress however that these masks are not medical grade and have not been made in a clean-room environment, meaning that users are advised to wash or disinfect them after receiving. Also they're not dishwasher-safe, meaning hand-wash only.
Using a setup he created in his garage, Sedlak has been able to create masks that have a replaceable snap-in filter insert onto which porous material can be placed, at a rate of up to four a day.
The downside of making masks using a 3D printer is the time it takes to complete, according to Sedlak, taking up to five hours to print a mask and 42 minutes to print one filter insert.
Another potential issue that has just recently arisen, is the availability of materials needed to produce the masks.
"The day (Tesla CEO) Elon Musk stated he would start 3D printing of parts for ventilators, Amazon reset the ship dates of the filament I am using out to four weeks. I have found other sources, but that was a clue that supply and delivery will not keep pace with demand in the months ahead," he said.
So far Sedlak has not found any groups or companies interested in recouping his costs for producing the masks, but says he will continue to produce them in the event that available supply becomes particularly dire or he is able to connect with a network of Bay Area 3D printer owners looking to print masks.
If the latter happens he would be able to work with local printer owners to hopefully mass produce masks, making them much more available for residents in need.
"I would order more filament and filter material to have on hand. But without a need/orders, I am waiting before I invest in any more inventory. Which ends up sounding like the federal government," he added.