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Western University to produce 1,000 medical face shields for COVID-19 fight

Western University says it has designed a cheap, adjustable medical face shield that can be used by frontline healthcare workers in their fight against COVID-19. 

Western's machine shop laboratory usually reserved for building machine prototypes

Western's machine services laboratory can churn out between 200 and 300 of these medical face shields a day. (Supplied)

Western University says it has designed a cheap, adjustable medical face shield that can be used by frontline healthcare workers in their fight against COVID-19. 

Anxiety among area healthcare workers has been building in recent days in anticipation of a coming surge of infections and dwindling supplies of personal protective equipment such as N95 surgical masks, which are known to block the virus from entering a person's airways. 

Medical face shields help extend the life of surgical masks by creating a clear barrier between a healthcare worker's face and the patient in order to prevent contact with droplets from infected patients that contain the virus. 

"If somebody sneezes and that mist, I guess you call it, [the face shields] are going to cover the whole face so it can't come in through your eyes or your nasal or anything," said Clayton Cook, the manager of Western's university machine services, the on-campus shop that designed the masks. 

Clayton Cook, the manager of Machine Services at Western University in London, Ont., dons one of the 1,000 medical face shields his shop is set to produce in a matter of days. (Supplied)

The masks are clear plastic sheets with velcro straps so they can be adjusted to fit a person's head. 

The machine services shop came up with the design after it received a request from the administration to create a medical face shield that could be manufactured quickly and cheaply on-campus in order to supply local healthcare workers on the front lines. 

"The hospitals don't have enough from what I'm understanding," Cook said. "We have two people in the shop that have spouses that work in the medical field so it's pretty heart warming to see everybody step up to the plate."

The shop has a staff of 15 that normally churns out prototype machines and custom made research equipment for industries ranging from the oil and gas sector to medicine. 

Could churn out 300 masks a day

Cook said the masks received approval from Health Canada earlier this week and are currently being field tested by frontline doctors and nurses at London Health Sciences Centre. 

Once they receive approval from the hospital, the lab will go into full-scale production, churning out 200 to 300 shields a day, with the first 1,000 shields donated to the hospital at no cost. 

After that, Cook said London armsmaker General Dynamics has offered to retool its production line to manufacture the shields in addition to what the university is already producing. 

"They've offered should the demand be there, they're willing to produce it," he said. 

Some might see it as fitting, since many have already compared the battle against COVID-19 to a military campaign. Cook said many people see it that way and he's had many offers of help. 

"It's amazing how many emails I've gotten," he said. 

The trouble is Cook needs to keep his numbers down in the shop in order to avoid creating the close quarters environment in which the spreading virus thrives. 

"I don't want more than three people in the shop at a time just to keep our distance up," he said. "You want to keep everyone safe."

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