As the fight against COVID-19 reaches a critical moment, healthcare providers are faced with shortages of face masks, eye gear, respirators, gloves and gowns to protect themselves from the virus. Now more than ever is the time to share knowledge, skills, and collaborate.
Early into the 2020 COVID pandemic, Antelope Valley Hospital (AVH) recognized the potential strain that COVID-19 could impose on our local medical resources. In response, I worked to establish a valleywide partnership within the community including the City of Lancaster, Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, and Antelope Valley College to assemble a task force capable of assisting with their needs. The group’s aim has been to help AVH manage the patient surge that is taxing on the supply of PPE, breathing assistance mechanisms and risking doctor and nurse health.
Lancaster Deputy Mayor Dr. Lawrence Stock, Emergency Medicine Physician and Vice-Chairman of the Emergency Department and Chair of the Bioethics Committee at AVH said: “With the support of the team, what began as a conversation on 3D printing small connectors and parts, morphed into not only securing resources in high demand but also working prototypes for critical items within the hospital. It is mind-boggling. We are grateful and know together we can overcome this pandemic.”
With the impact of COVID-19 evolving daily, it became increasingly important to Mayor R. Rex Parris to partner together and meet the needs of the community during this challenging time. “The Antelope Valley has always been the heart of the Aerospace Valley. With a long history of changing the world, it is almost expected, and this time of crisis is no exception. A few weeks ago, George Whitesides called and asked, ‘How can we help?’ In that time, the team came together and created several life-saving devices. We are the example. I am incredibly proud of the ingenuity of this team and thank everyone involved.”
After several weeks of daily calls, spanning a growing team of talented folks from inside the AV as well as beyond, the team has produced results in several areas.
Perhaps most important, they’ve designed and built several prototype patient oxygen hoods, which allow oxygen rich pressure to support those admitted with COVID-19 – opening up the alveoli in the lungs, and helping to delay or prevent Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) from developing. By mitigating ARDS, we hope this will then reduce the subsequent need for ventilator support.
The team has also created and built two designs for protective enclosures to reduce exposure to health workers during intubation procedures, as well as a design for an antechamber for those workers to don and doff protective clothing. The Intubation Shield is a transparent enclosure that fits over the patient’s head with holes to enable a doctor to reach in and perform the difficult intubation process with less exposure to COVID-19.
Finally, the procurement teams and the City are serving as an extra set of arms to rapidly source additional PPE and supplies for the hospitals, whether that be masks, fingertip oximeters, gowns or respirators.
There were many challenges along the way, but the task force overcame these challenges with speedy responses, working with existing resources and providers, leveraging relationships where we can, inventing where necessary, and trying to stay attuned to what the healthcare workers need most now. Drawing on examples from the past, and a similar need for ingenuity that was used to bring Apollo 13 back home, the task force turned everyday items like trash cans liners and PVC pipe into a device to help in the fight against COVID-19.
Specifically, for the oxygen hoods, the task force designed and built several prototypes, and has already delivered 50 working hoods to the hospital. These prototypes are now being tested for comfort, ease of use and functionality. Our goal is for them to serve as pathfinders for other communities who see the therapeutic benefits of non-invasive oxygen therapy and who may also have shortages of ventilators.
David Voracek is the lead NASA engineer for the AV Task Force, and the Chief Technologist for NASA Armstrong. He’s worked with great center talent, like engineer Mike Buttigieg, to rapidly develop several prototypes such as the hoods. “We’ve looked across our Center’s expertise in innovation, engineering, design, and fabrication of unique systems, to bring NASA knowledge and people together to collaborate on solving the needs and challenges brought about by the COVID-19 situation.”
The task force will continue tackling challenges as they arise. At this time, the team is currently designing a safe oxygen distribution system that technicians will assemble at the local field hospital. In addition, engineers and fabrication technicians are developing system prototypes such as mobile patient care PPE (a protective cart) and an easy-to-assemble chamber as an enclosed staging room prior to entering a contaminated area.
“The Council and I are incredibly proud of the ingenuity of this task force. It is our toughness and community resilience that will beat COVID-19. I would like to thank everyone who is a part of this talented and growing team. Together we will continue working on, testing, or manufacturing these much-needed pieces of equipment for our brave healthcare workers who are on the frontline,” said Mayor Parris.