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Pinellas manufacturers pitch in on medical supplies

Margie Manning

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Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

About 40 Pinellas County manufacturers have donated medical products or offered to help produce masks and other equipment to keep healthcare workers safe in the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The county wants to be prepared for what is likely to be an increase in people who are sick and need treatment, said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development.

There were 54 confirmed cases of the illness in Pinellas County as of 6 p.m. Wednesday, with 16 hospitalizations, according to the Florida Department of Health.

“First responders and hospitals have plenty of equipment now, but the numbers will continue to rise,” Meidel said. “We want to be prepared.”

The county is working with the private sector as equipment shipments from the state and federal government lag. Local hospital CEOs are panicking because they haven’t gotten the equipment they need, Commissioner Janet Long said at Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting.

“We have a logistics person who is talking with hospitals on daily basis,” said Cathie Perkins, Pinellas County director of emergency management. “The state is struggling to get resources in, as they are at the federal level, and we’re talking with them every day to see if they are able to procure stuff locally. As they get those resources coming in, we can be sure we are getting them to the facilities with the most critical need.”

One key item that’s needed is face masks. It’s hard to make the N95 respirators and surgical masks that are regulated by federal health agencies, so Pinellas County is working with local companies to make surgical masks with medical-grade filter material. That would allow the N95 masks to be freed up for the situations where they are most needed, Meidel said.

BayCare Health System and other hospital systems are working on identifying a pattern and appropriate materials. “We’re reaching out to manufacturers with sewing machines and staff to help assemble them,” Meidel said.

Another important need is whole face shields with clear full-face coverings. Meidel is working with local companies with 3D printers to make the headband that holds the shields in place, while also looking for sources for the mylar shields.

Pinellas County has a strong cluster of medical manufacturing firms that already make scrubs, gloves and other items, Meidel said. The county has published an online survey for local businesses willing to manufacture supplies needed to fight the Covid-19 spread, and also is collecting personal protective and disinfectants, and has opened three collection sites for medical supplies at  Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, as well as at Walsingham Park in Seminole and at St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church in Tarpon Springs. A list of items needed is here.

The county also is reaching out to trade schools, salons, dentists and others that may have protective equipment, Perkins said.

“We are scouring everything locally and making sure we are working with hospitals and nursing homes and assisted living facilities and emergency medical service providers to get them everything we can,” she said. “If you have a resource, please bring it to the table. We’re willing to look at every option.”

Closer look: SPC professor taps 3D printing for face shields

A St. Petersburg College professor is using 3D printing technology to create face shields for healthcare workers.

Jonathan Barnes, chair of St. Petersburg College Humanities and Fine Arts, started using his personal 3D printer to create the face shields, according to a news release. He found an open-source design for a face shield from Prusa, a Czech company that makes 3D printers.

In order to boost production, SPC leadership gave Barnes permission to bring home two printers, and since then his output has increased. Over the past few days, other people have offered up their printers for the cause, after seeing Barnes’ posts on social media.

“Right now, we can make six shields every four hours,” Barnes said. So far, Barnes has donated more than 30 shields to doctors in Clearwater, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Ocala and Sarasota, as well as Baltimore, Maryland, the news release said.

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