Iowa State community creates face masks for health care workers

The Story County Board of Health recommends the use of face masks and face shields in COVID-19 mitigation guidelines.

Logan Metzger

The Iowa State community has come together in a variety of ways to help provide masks for health care professionals in need.

Iowa State Extension and Outreach heads one of the biggest programs by encouraging Iowa 4-H members to create masks in a variety of ways.

“4‑H programs empower young people to be well-informed citizens who are actively engaged in their communities and the world,” according to the Extension and Outreach website. “Iowa 4-H is calling all 4-H members, leaders, alumni, judges and friends to create face masks for their community, including friends, neighbors, hospitals and care centers.”

When the project started, 4-H had the goal of creating 10,000 masks, as of the publishing of this article members had created 12,256 masks, according to Lisa Berkland, 4-H youth development specialist.

“The need for face masks was shared by both Iowa Governor Reynolds and the surgeon general,” Berkland said. “We know our 4-H members, volunteers, staff and supporters likely have pledged their hands to larger service. Making face masks to help fill the need makes sense and is something that many of us have the capacity to do.”

Berkland said anyone can take part in this project, not just 4-H affiliated individuals.

“We just want to thank everyone who has been donating,” Berkland said. “They are making a difference.”

Iowa 4-H created a five-step guide for creating the masks.

Five-Step Guide for Making a Face Mask

  1. Decide who to create masks for. The Iowa 4-H website suggested local hospitals, care centers, neighbors, friends or even local essential businesses and offer to sew masks for their employees or customers.
    • The website suggested learning what requirements the group has and how they would like the donation packaged.
  2. Choose a pattern – there are many options to choose from.
    • If someone doesn’t sew, the website suggested checking out different no-sew options or cutting fabric for those who are sewing masks.
  3. Gather supplies. Some of the required supplies include fabric, a sewing machine, thread, pins and a ruler.
    • JOANN has been encouraging customers and partners to help fight the severe shortage of personal protective equipment, launching the “Make to Give face mask program” nationwide.
  4. Get to sewing. The website suggested washing hands before sewing and then having fun by involving the whole family and set up an assembly line.
  5. Finally, celebrate and deliver. Package the face masks according to how the receiving group requested and drop them off. People who take part in this project are encouraged to post pictures on social media with #Iowa4HFacemasks.

Iowa 4-H is also encouraging people to create strap extensions for face masks.

“Many health care workers are required to wear their masks all day long,” according to the Extension and Outreach website. “As the hours wear on, the straps have been known to hurt their ears. In order to make those long hours more comfortable some have started to wear mask strap extensions, a piece that goes across the back of their head for the straps to attach to instead of their ears.”

Iowa 4-H is encouraging members, parents, volunteers, alumni and friends to help out this effort by producing and donating mask strap extensions. The website had a couple of options recommended.

The first option is 3D printing. If someone has access to a 3D printer, they can print off mask strap extensions using one of the files provided by Iowa 4-H.

The next option is Cricut, which is a smart cutting machine that can cut through a variety of materials from paper and fabric to mat board, leather and basswood. If someone has access to a Cricut, they can find directions on cutting mask strap extensions in this Mahaska County Extension news article.

The last option provided by Iowa 4-H is crocheting. Some examples can be found in this Facebook blog video, or this free online pattern download.

After producing the mask strap extensions, Iowa 4-H encourages people to donate them to a local entity in need.

Other things Iowa State is doing

Iowa State’s Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) has been working with the Dimensional Group, a company that focuses on creating custom products such as three-ring binders, packaging, vinyl and more, and Angstrom Precision Molding, Inc., a company that manufactures custom and proprietary injection molded plastic parts for the agricultural, filtration, medical, athletic and other domestic industries, to manufacture face shields and halo components for doctors and nurses.

Production on the face shields began April 8 while shipments to hospitals and facilities began April 10.

“The goal of each unit was to provide a solution for doctors and nurses to have the ability to quickly remove the shield from the halo while they move from room-to-room seeing patients,” according to the Dimensional Group website. “Each halo has four notches on the front while the shield has four holes, into which the notch will fit snugly. This allows for both quick assembly and removal of the shield.”

Companies in need can order a kit of 500 shields, 500 halos and 500 bands from the Dimensional Group website. According to the website, assembly takes less than 10 seconds and can be done on-site. Each mask is being offered at a price of $1.25 each or $625 delivered for a kit of 500.

Another Iowa State group creating face shields is working on the Iowa State campus itself. This team works in partnership with Alliant Energy to manufacture and distribute face shields to Iowa hospitals.

This team works out of the Computation and Construction Lab (CCL), which is headed by Shelby Doyle, assistant professor of architecture. Because the CCL is not a medical-grade fabrication facility, it cannot make N95 face masks. But Doyle and her team of eight students have looked toward other options.

According to an Iowa State News Service article, Doyle and her team found their inspiration when a recent guest lecturer sent her information from a team at Princeton University, which led to the CCL’s decision to work with face shield designs by Prusa3D in the Czech Republic and adapted by the Storrs FabLab at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.

The students are 3D printing the top and bottom segments of the face shield, adding a clear plastic cover and an elastic band to secure around a person’s head.

Before the College of Design building closed, Doyle’s students moved the architecture department’s 3D printers to the CCL. They now have 30 3D printers creating parts for face shields. ISU Central Receiving ensures the CCL gets the materials it needs.

Alliant Energy is funding the 3D printing and donating supplies to the team and the company will also distribute the face shields as they are finished to hospitals across Iowa.