As the spread of COVID-19 accelerated during the early stages of the pandemic in the U.S., assistant professor of art and design Devon Tsuno became increasingly worried about his wife, Rieko Takamatsu, a nurse treating patients in a Los Angeles hospital that had begun rationing its short supply of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Tsuno wanted to do something to help his wife but wasn’t sure what. In a conversation with Cypress College art professor Ed Giardina on how two artists could have an impact, they decided to create and 3D-print their own medical face shields. They suspected others would be willing to help and began reaching out to friends and colleagues, primarily within the art community.
An art collector friend came forward with the first $1,500 to purchase printers and the necessary materials to get started. Giardina also received a donation from Cypress College’s president, JoAnna Shilling. Soon, the educators began printing the shields from their homes.
“Once my wife started wearing them and began telling colleagues, the word spread really quickly. We started posting what we were doing online and within hours people were showing up at my house asking for the shields,” said Tsuno. “They go fast. I typically accumulate no more than three days’ worth of printing before I’m giving them all away.”
Since their efforts began in mid-April, Tsuno and Giardina have raised more than $13,000, which has allowed them to increase production to 33 3D printers. Their distribution network now includes 24 volunteers who have collectively printed more than 6,200 face shields. The team includes art engagement fellows and teaching artists from CSUDH’s PRAXIS program, as well as faculty from Loyola Marymount University, and art students from both campuses.
“It is great when people are willing to help people they don’t know, and to see students using their organizational, collaborative, and creative skills to do it.”
The funding has been used to purchase one 3D printer and material for each face shield producer to work from his or her home. “There is basically someone printing within 30 minutes of every area. The idea is to cast a wide net, so it is easier to get shields to people faster,” explained Tsuno. “We are careful to ensure no risk of infection. We tell people that we don’t ship them – our people leave orders on their own porches without making contact – if they are willing to come and pick them up, we are more than willing to give them away.”
The network’s shields have also been delivered to grocery chain employees at Trader Joe’s, Vons, and Whole Foods, and small businesses and city services such as bakeries, dry cleaners, the L.A. Food Bank, and the Huntington Beach Fire Department.
For the last three weeks, Art and Design student Jose Espinoza has been printing face shields day and night from his living room in Long Beach.
Many of his shields have been delivered to facilities in his city, such as St. Mary’s Hospital and the Long Beach Healthcare Nursing Home. He has also given shields to friends and neighbors, some with existing health conditions and others who are essential workers. Since Espinoza has been working during the pandemic, he has also solicited others to help distribute the face shields.
Espinoza recently supplied shields to those involved in local protests. “It was extremely rewarding giving them to those at the Black Lives Matter protests,” he said. “My original intent was to protect my friends from police pepper-spray. Then I thought about the health risks of meeting in such large crowds, and how helpful the shields would be to keep people safe from possibly contracting COVID-19 in a situation where social distancing would be virtually impossible.”
California and Beyond
Tsuno and Giardina’s network now is called the 3D PPE Artist Network and is distributing to PPE user throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties and as far as California’s Central Valley, Arizona, New York and Mexico.
In the Mixe region of Oaxaca, Mexico, Sandra Maldonado is working with the Tamazulapam Community Hospital, the only hospital in region, where all the doctors and nurses have tested positive for COVID-19.
“They had to close the hospital down, but have reopened it with part-time seasonal workers who still don’t have any PPE,” said Tsuno. Malondado, one of the PRAXIS teaching artists, is from that area and is working with nurses at the hospital. “We have recently printed 200 face shields to send to them, and raised close to $800 to buy hundreds of gloves, masks, and other materials.”
Another group of volunteers produced 200 shields and delivered them via convoy to the Navajo Nation in Arizona. It was organized by the Auntie Sewing Squad artist group and led by artist and comedian Kristina Wong. They then organized a fundraiser that collected $1,700, enough to outfit the Native American communities of the Cheyenne River reservation, and the Navajo Nation with their own 3D printers and the materials needed to print face shields.
Locally Tsuno has begun to work with PRAXIS artist-in-residence Lauren Halsey and has donated a 3D printer, materials, and 350 face shields to Halsey’s Summaeverythang Community Center in South Central Los Angeles. The PPE will be distributed with her weekly boxes of fresh food and COVID-19 supplies for the residents of Watts and South Central.
Tsuno predicts that the network will continue producing and donating face shields well into the summer. “It is great when people are willing to help people they don’t know, and to see students using their organizational, collaborative, and creative skills to do it,” he said. “That is one of the most amazing things about this entire effort.”