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From MIT, a new shield against COVID virus

A plastics company is rushing to make thousands of masks designed by two academics at the Cambridge institution

A local plastics factory will soon provide health care workers with thousands of protective face shields that engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology hurriedly designed as the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus threatened to overwhelm the medical industry.

The company hopes to begin delivering the shields to local hospitals this week. It’s one of many such efforts racing to alleviate a critical shortage of personal protective equipment for health care workers as they care for patients with the COVID-19 virus.

“People dropped everything to do this," said MIT mechanical engineering professor Martin Culpepper, who partnered with cardiologist Elazer Edelman, director of MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering & Science to bring the new design from the drawing board to the factory in about two weeks.

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Face shields are made of clear plastic and are intended to protect the user’s face from being splashed by a patient’s bodily fluids. They are no substitute for the face masks that protect the workers from inhaling airborne viruses, and which are also in desperately short supply. But a shield can extend the life of such masks by protecting them from a patient’s coughs or sneezes.

The new MIT shield design uses a single sheet of plastic that is fed into a die cutting machine, something like a cookie cutter, which slices slots and holes in the plastic. It can then be folded into a shield that covers the entire face and held in place with an elastic band. Each shield will cost between $2 and $3 and are intended to be discarded after a single use.

“When you need something fast, and it has to be reliable ... simple always wins," said Culpepper.

Workers at several local hospitals have tried out the masks, Culpepper added, and their suggested improvements have been included in the version that’s now in mass production.

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Polymershapes of Charlotte, NC is making the shields at its plant in Tyngsboro. The company expects to produce 100,000 of the shields by the end of this week. MIT will purchase 40,000 and donate them to Boston-area hospitals, while Polymershapes will donate 60,000. After that, the company will manufacture the shields at 10 locations throughout the US, and hopes to ramp up output to 500,000 per day.

Heath care providers interested in purchasing the shields can get more information at https://project-manus.mit.edu/fs.

“In about a five-day span, thanks to the brilliance of the MIT engineers, we were able to put all this together," said the factory’s general manager, Derek Gagnon. “It’s going to be a symphony.”



Hiawatha Bray can be reached at hiawatha.bray@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeTechLab.