A group of volunteers led by a Damariscotta resident is sewing medical-grade face masks and building frames for face shields to supply workers in health care and other essential fields.
William “Zev” Keisch, the organizer of the group, calls it the “Cholera Love Society,” a reference to the novel “Love in the Time of Cholera.” Members have distributed about 200 face-shield frames to LincolnHealth and 400 face masks to other essential workers over the past several weeks.
“We fully provided the entire staff of the hospital with face shields, and then some,” Keisch said in a phone interview April 28.
Hospital spokesperson John Martins said by email that LincolnHealth is grateful for all the donations it has received from the community since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.
“The face shields have been put to good use and our team members are thrilled to have them. The generosity of organizations and individuals who have used their 3D printers to help protect our team on the front line is much appreciated. This is yet another example of how ‘we’ll get through this together,’” Martins said.
Around the time Lincoln County saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 15, Keisch and his wife, acupuncturist Sharon Gordon, began looking for a way they could coordinate local efforts to help.
Such volunteer efforts are “the last resort, since our government has failed us,” Keisch said, referring to the national shortage of personal protective equipment.
Keisch first looked into manufacturing parts for ventilators using a 3D printer, but found the legal hurdles too cumbersome.
He then discovered designs online for face-shield headbands, or frames, that are approved by the National Institutes of Health. The frames simply need a clear plastic sheet clipped onto them to provide protection from infection.
Through Brooks Betts, senior director of operations at LincolnHealth, Keisch found out that the hospital had thousands of plastic sheets for the face shields, as well as the bands needed to secure the face shield to a worker’s head.
Keisch coordinated with Lincoln Academy Head of School Jeffrey Burroughs and computer science instructor Stephanie Cheney to enlist LA students to print frames. The students involved in the 3D printing were Victoria Melehov, of Walpole; Cameron Nelson, of Damariscotta; Benji Pugh, of Alna; and Toby Seidel, of Damariscotta.
About a dozen frames were printed at LA before Keisch posted on Facebook Marketplace and connected with Edgecomb resident Timothy Harrington.
Harrington owns 10 3D printers, which he uses to manufacture guitar and ukulele parts for his businesses, Goldfish Guitars and Fishuku Ukuleles.
Keisch has since distributed nearly 200 frames to LincolnHealth. He continues to distribute them to other health care professionals and essential workers, like those in food service.
At the same time, Keisch discovered a design for a medical-grade face mask that can be sewn with surgical wrap widely available at hospitals across the country. Keisch was able to source the surgical wrap from LincolnHealth’s Miles Campus.
The mask design, developed by the University of Florida’s Department of Anesthesiology, uses “Halyard H600 two-ply spun polypropylene that is thought to be superior to the common surgical mask in its ability to block aerosols and droplets, including water, bacteria, and other particles,” according to a March 26 statement from the university.
Keisch enlisted the help of volunteers in Lincoln County to sew the masks, which can be sterilized and reused over and over until they fall apart.
“My role has really been organizational,” Keisch said, as he does not have strong sewing skills. “My hat’s off to all these people that are using their skills and learning new skills.”
Among the volunteers sewing masks are Meghan Costello, of Newcastle; Barbara Ganem, of Damariscotta; Brie Kennington, of Waldoboro; Maria Mellyn, of Nobleboro; and Stephanie and Adlai Nelson, of Newcastle.
Keisch said one volunteer didn’t know how to sew at first. After Keisch lent her a sewing machine, she picked up the skill quickly and is now making seven to eight masks a week.
Keisch said it takes about 30 minutes to sew one mask. He has distributed more than 400 masks to the Central Lincoln County Ambulance Service, Damariscotta Police Department, Lincoln County Communications, Nobleboro-Jefferson Transfer Station, Rising Tide Co-op, and health care professionals.
Keisch said he plans to continue the effort for the foreseeable future, until the need for personal protective equipment dissipates.