Healthcare Workers Needed Personal Protective Equipment, They Took Action

• from Jenny Woodford

Jaryn Tyson

Tyson was studying in Australia when she was forced by the global response to the pandemic to return in March to her family home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She had been feeling “hopeless and angry and useless” when she heard about an artist an hour away who was heading the PPEople Brigadea nonprofit group that was creating and donating disposable face shields from the clear plastic covers that are used for 8.5-by-11-inch presentation binders.

Health science student Samantha Hall is collecting face masks of all types—disposable and homemade—for people in need in Boston, as well as charities in Burundi, South Africa, Zambia, and Nepal. Photo courtesy of Samantha Hall

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“I could see ways to make the mask cheaper and quicker, so I joined in with this group of four women,” says Tyson, who plans to graduate next year in business administration. “I’ve been able to take over the sourcing and supply chain and most of the tech stuff in order to streamline the process—I’ve had experience with that from my co-ops.”

The face shields don’t meet stringent medical standards, but they are suitable for other types of workers.

“We’ve had feedback that they’re more comfortable than 3D-printed shields, just because these are very flexible and a lot softer on the forehead,” Tyson says.

Tyson’s duties include cold-calling companies and communities that lack personal protective equipment.

“I spend a lot of time dealing with Native American reservations, and the big issue has been trust,” Tyson says. “They’ve been scammed by so many people selling them stuff that never arrives, and a lot of them are very wary to even accept free face shields because they don’t think that it’s a real thing.”

The experience has left her with mixed feelings.

“When I came back to the States, I was so hopeless because I felt like this is something that no one could do anything about, and everyone was scared and alone,” she says. “This has really helped me to see that everyone is willing to do their part if you just let them know what they need to do.

“But I do think it is so sad that there are nurses and doctors that can’t get proper PPE, and that there are for-profit companies that won’t pay for it. It’s incredibly difficult, and we’re going to need something big to change in healthcare for these people to be protected.”