College of Engineering helps fill UI face shield gap

Tom Snee
Office of Strategic Communications

When University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics put out the call for additional face shields this week, the College of Engineering jumped to help out.

The college’s Roy J. Carver Department of Biomedical Engineering spent the week making more than 1,000 face shields to protect health care workers while they tend to patients who have or are suspected of having the COVID-19 virus. Health care providers around the country are reporting chronic shortages of shields, masks, gowns, and other forms of personal protective equipment (PPE) due to the large numbers of COVID-19 patients they’re seeing.

“We are all very grateful for the commitment and sacrifices being made by our health care colleagues, and hopefully these shields can help make their jobs safer,” says Joe Reinhardt, professor and Roy J. Carver Department of Biomedical Engineering executive officer. “It’s especially satisfying that we can use our facilities, equipment, and skills to contribute in a small way to fighting this pandemic.”

James Ankrum, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering who’s coordinating the project, says a shield is a relatively simple tool to build. It requires only a plastic face covering and a headband to attach said covering to the provider’s head. They also come with few regulatory hurdles, as the Food and Drug Administration classifies them as a Class I medical device.

The project helped replenish UI Hospitals & Clinics’ immediate stock of face shields using tools in the department’s medical design device lab. The engineering team is using the lab’s tools to cut plastic shields, make a simple headband using elastic strips, and add a piece of foam to provide some comfort for the wearer. The parts were manually assembled by students and faculty.

Ankrum says the mask is a basic design and intended to be used only for a day or two.

“It’s rudimentary, but it allows us to keep costs down and get a useful device to the hospital,” Ankrum says.

The first batch of shields was delivered March 27, with a second batch set for delivery this week.

“We are extremely grateful for all the work and determination this team has put forth to help our staff stay safe,” says Theresa Brennan, chief medical officer at UI Hospitals & Clinics. “It’s a strong reminder, particularly in the toughest of times, that the UI is truly one big team working together.”