Kevin Horgan assembles the face shields he 3D printed.
Kevin Horgan assembles the face shields he 3D printed. Credit: Courtesy of Kevin Horgan

Throughout the region, first responders face shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE). From hospitals to care facilities for the elderly, all sorts of health care providers are in urgent need of PPE, including N95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, and face shields.

Healthcare providers are using face shields as an extra layer of protection when treating patients with COVID-19. The shields also supplement less effective masks when supplies run low.

Kevin Horgan, a Trinidad resident since 2015, has used a 3D printer to create about a hundred face shields just this month, distributing them locally and throughout the U.S. Last week Horgan secured a grant from his advisory neighborhood commission to create 200 shields using DC Public Library printers. He’s also raising money to create and mail more shields. [Disclosure: Horgan has contributed towards my virtual drawing classes for kids in the past.]

Horgan, an electrical engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has only been using a 3D printer since September, using it initially to build prototypes of spaceborne instruments. In March, Horgan learned through a coworker that other 3D printing enthusiasts were creating personal protective equipment and began creating face shield components for the Baltimore group Open Works, ultimately contributing 34 headbands.

In early April, Horgan saw that the National Institutes of Health had approved some DIY face shield designs. Around that time, Horgan’s partner, Kristen Hagan, posted about the project on Facebook. “That just kind of opened the floodgates,” says Horgan.

“I started getting personal requests from people,” he says. For example, Hagan’s uncle in Seattle has a friend who works as a nurse in an intensive care unit for premature infants in San Diego. Horgan and Hagan are shipping 10 shields to the unit.

Horgan ultimately decided to switch from supplying parts to creating whole shields, and has gone “nonstop” since the beginning of April, creating about six to eight each day. Fifteen of the 97 shields he’s created so far went to Collington Life Care Community, about 15 miles outside of the District and home to about 450 seniors. Hagan is friends with a resident at Collington, which as of Friday had six confirmed cases of COVID-19 according to Sandy Short, the facility’s director of sales and marketing. “It was incredibly generous of them to take two days worth of 3D printing to make them for us when there’s so many communities that are in need,” she says. “In a world of chaos and uncertainty and an overwhelming feeling of helplessness, it’s incredibly inspiring for us as a community.”

As Horgan began to fill the requests for shields, he reached out to Sydelle Moore, a commissioner on ANC 5D, for which he serves as co-chair of the zoning and development committee. Through Moore, DC Public Library offered access to three more 3D printers

To assist in the effort, 5D, which has a budget of more than $125,000, awarded Horgan a $497 grant at last Tuesday’s meeting, held on Zoom. The grant covers the supplies needed to create 200 shields. Horgan and other neighbors will volunteer their time and expertise. An informal Zoom poll of those watching the meeting showed 100 percent support for the project.

Somewhat complicating things, the rules about who DCPL can loan equipment to and how the ANC grant money can be spent are somewhat complicated and possibly contradictory. Horgan, Moore, and DCPL employees are currently attempting to navigate those rules and start production of the shields. 

Horgan and Hagan are still responding to requests and using their own resources to create and send shields throughout the country. Hagan created a GoFundMe campaign, which quickly met its goal but will remain live, and they are using it to reimburse themselves for over $900 of expenses. Any extra funds will be used to purchase supplies and ship orders.

And while Horgan and Hagan want to rise to the challenge of the moment and send out as many face shields as possible, they are wary of getting in over their heads. “I have a full time job and it does get busy,” says Horgan. “We just want to do our little part and keep it going as best we can,” says Hagan. “No 501(c)(3) in our future.” 

“Eventually I know the factories will gear up and deliver the PPE,” says Horgan. “My goal is to stop printing face shields. If I’m printing face shields a month from now, something has gone seriously wrong.” For now, the printer keeps running.

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