A movement to equip front-liners with PPE

Posted: May 18, 2020

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Like many who are not in the medical field, Julia Armstrong didn’t know the vital role of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers.

Since stepping up to help with the COVID-19 outbreak, she has gained a clear understanding.

For more than a month, Armstrong — who earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Ohio State in 2014 — has led a significant effort to outfit frontline workers in Columbus with thousands of protective masks, face shields and other accessories. She serves on the leadership team for Can’t Stop Columbus, a movement dedicated to helping the community during COVID-19, and handles the large job of PPE coordination and delivery.

Armstrong got involved in what became Can’t Stop Columbus because the initial idea was to do a few virtual hackathons to address problems related to COVID-19.

“The idea was, we could create quick, one-day software products to support our own,” said Armstrong, director of the OHI/O Informal Learning Program and HackOHI/O. “But within a matter of two conversations, we realized there were so many needs we could fill — and it wasn’t going to be a one-day hackathon. It was going to be a movement.”

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The movement is now about a 1,500-volunteer effort with 45 ongoing projects. She quickly took on two coordinating roles — data analytics and PPE — and recruited computer science students to help toward Ohio State’s computer modeling efforts for the Ohio Department of Health. She led the PPE effort with support from colleagues and students throughout the university.

So far, Armstrong’s PPE team, in partnership with local businesses, is organizing the creation or procurement of personal protective equipment for a number of organizations in need. Among them:

• 1,890 N95 masks retrofitted for Wexner Medical Center
• 400 N95 masks and 1000 medical masks to Franklin County Emergency Management from Willow Works
• 1,000 medical masks to Central Ohio Transit Authority from Willow Works
• Individual volunteers 3D printing face shields with IC3D, totaling over 3,050 donated + over 200 ear relievers
• 1,000 face shields to Franklin County Emergency Management from Dynalab Inc., with a pledge of at least 11,000 more
• Pledge of 1200 injection molded face shields donated to Franklin County Emergency Management from What? Productions
• Pledge of 2,000 face shields from Makers4COVID

“Ohio State has a wealth of information and specialists,” Armstrong said. “Harnessing that expertise to provide it to the community was incredibly important.”

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Her team also launched a facemask public service announcement video and is investigating making medical gowns.

Along with her PPE efforts, she works on other Can’t Stop Columbus projects such as Can’t Stop US, a toolkit to help other U.S. cities launch similar movements. And once the immediate crisis is over, she believes the movement will continue.

“There’s going to be a lot of rebuilding, and we’ll be a part of that,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to do but people want to help. Honestly, it’s been incredible to see.”

If you would like to volunteer for Can’t Stop Columbus, you can sign up at its website. The team’s website also offers many resources for those in need due to the many challenges brought by COVID-19.

Published: May 11, 2020, courtesy of Ohio State's Center for Automotive Research