Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A University of New Mexico research center that usually focuses on technology for military and aerospace systems has shifted gears due to the coronavirus outbreak and is now churning out protective equipment for workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
About 1,000 masks and 400 face shields were delivered this week to law enforcement and medical providers in Gallup and other parts of McKinley County, which has seen an outbreak of COVID-19 infections and now has the state’s highest number of confirmed cases.
The equipment was manufactured by UNM School of Engineering faculty, staff and students, who have been using 3D printers to make about 500 face masks per week since April 10 at COSMIAC, the aerospace research center based at the school.
After an initial delay, a state medical advisory team endorsed the development of the 3D-printed masks and face shields.
And the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is working with the UNM School of Engineering to distribute the equipment.
Christina Salas, an assistant professor of the UNM Department of Orthopedics and Rehabilitation who is leading the School of Engineering’s efforts to create personal protective equipment, said food and hand sanitizer were also included in this week’s delivery.
Ensuring a sufficient supply of face masks, shields, gloves and other protective equipment for medical providers and first responders has emerged as a crucial element in the battle to slow the spread of the virus.
As of last week, New Mexico had received about 237,000 surgical masks, 49,000 face shields and 236,000 gloves from a national stockpile, according to the White House.
But some of that equipment has to be discarded after it’s used, meaning a recurring supply of masks, shields and gloves is needed as the outbreak goes on.
The face masks made by 3D printing at the UNM research center can be cleaned using rubbing alcohol, according to the research center.
And with in-person classes canceled for the rest of the current academic year, the project is giving faculty and students alike the opportunity to pitch in during the pandemic.
“As the university for New Mexico, we are thrilled to be part of serving the people of our state during such a critical time,” UNM President Garnett Stokes said.