The pandemic has physically separated people around the world, but it hasn’t stopped a local organization from collaborating with a national one in an effort to protect frontline workers from COVID-19.
Los Altos-based student group The Robonauts, which aims to teach children STEM and leadership skills, has joined forces with the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) to help find a solution for the lack of personal protective equipment in the U.S. In particular, The Robonauts help produce face shields for those who need them.
“I saw a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment,” Robonauts founder Sophia Shams said in a phone interview. “We asked what we could do. Since I’m an AMWA pre-med member, I reached out. We wanted to work with them because we wanted to ensure our face shields were landing in the hands of real health-care workers.”
Shams said the project has been very much a collaboration between her organization and the AMWA, whose mission is to help women reach their potential and achieve success in the medical world.
“So we collaborated on everything, including process production and procedure and then order management and material acquisition,” said Shams, who attends Los Altos High School.
The process of creating a face shield for health-care workers is a multi-step journey. Joon Luther, who is part of The Robonauts’ COVID-19 PPE team and helps with printing and packaging, said they first need a 3D printer to create the shield’s headband, and that takes approximately two hours. They then package it along with elastic and assembly instructions. Once completed, they move to the second phase: Getting the face shields to those who need them.
“After that, we give our package shields to AMWA, and they actually assemble the full shield by attaching polyester to it,” Luther said in a phone interview. “And then AMWA takes care of distributing the finished PPE to medical facilities.”
Together, the organizations have supplied more than 2,000 face shields to health-care workers around the country, according to Shams, with plans to expand their reach to global levels by sending PPE to Uganda and Nepal.
“Our main goal is just having an impact on facilities in need (and) alleviating the situation that some areas are in,” said Luther, who attends Valley Christian High School. “We’ve definitely made a tangible impact, and our goal is just to continue having that impact.”
The collaboration relies on contributions from others to make an impact. For example, Shams said they have reached out to companies such as Dinsmore Inc., which donated some of its face shields and created a die to cut polyester sheets required to make them.
Such assistance enabled The Robonauts and AMWA to send face shields to those in desperate need of them.
“One of the major donations we made was to the Navajo Nation in Arizona,” Luther said. “They were hit especially hard toward the beginning of the pandemic ... and so The Robonauts made a donation during that time, and by early July, their case rate started to decrease and it was looking better. And so I think that story goes to show that The Robonauts, in combination with other organizations that make donations and in partnership with AMWA, had some kind of impact on that reservation, and that makes us happy.”
Shams noted that their donations have made a difference.
“I have been talking to a lot of medical students (at Navajo Nation) and health-care workers there who have said there is a shortage,” she said, “so any PPE that they’ve received from us has made a massive impact.”
There are many other ways people can help frontline workers, Luther added, such as giving money to COVID-19 relief funds, donating PPE – especially N95 masks – and advocating for those in the medical industry who need protecting.
“Los Altos citizens have already been really great and generous in donating materials and funds, and (can) continue to do so, as COVID-19 is still a nationwide issue,” Shams said.
To donate to The Robonauts’ cause and for more information, visit therobonauts.org.