Kenneth Heinze spent Friday driving from store to store, looking for the supplies he needs to build plastic face masks for area hospitals.
Hobby Lobby, Menards and Office Depot — anywhere he could find plastic, foam and elastic.
“We’re trying to come up with enough materials to make 2,000 shields,” said Heinze, prototype design lab coordinator at Metropolitan Community College.
Dr. James Linder, CEO of Nebraska Medicine, said his organization has been building a relationship with Metro over the past two years to provide opportunities for students in the health professions. He was aware of the prototype lab and called Metro President Randy Schmailzl for help.
The plastic shields protect doctors, nurses and staff from contracting COVID-19.
“The need is substantial, both locally and throughout the country,” Linder said. “We have connected MCC with hospitals in New York and Texas, for example.”
Heinze and Tom Strudl, director of procurement and contracting at Nebraska Medicine, talked over specifics.
Heinze designed a prototype, and staff at the school, sidelined by the closing of classes, helped put together the first 300 masks, which were delivered to Nebraska Medicine on Thursday.
But many more masks are needed, especially because other hospitals in the city have expressed interest.
“It all depends on the magnitude of the outbreak in our community,” Linder said. “The masks never expire, so if we have more than we need, I’m happy to have them on the shelves.“
Scott Nepper at Design Plastics was one of the first business owners to step up and help. And others have joined in.
Heinze said he was so busy talking to people Friday that he didn’t have time to make a single mask.
But the calls paid off. FXI, a foam solutions provider, made available 2,000 foam strips for the project.
Signs & Shapes International, which manufactures high-end inflatables for amusement parks, parades, professional sports teams and theatrical shows, also volunteered to help. It made Lil’ Red for the University of Nebraska.
President Scott Bowen said his company had been searching for a way to become involved in the effort to fight the coronavirus.
“We have the machinery and professional manufacturing. We have all kinds of tools, machines and resources,” he said. “If there is a real need, then obviously we would be happy to help. What he is doing seems very much like an emergency situation.”
Bowen said they have contacted suppliers and are having samples of medical-grade materials shipped overnight in case they need to do testing and prototypes.