Updated: Jan 7
An Interview with Eilam Gal about the students behind the operation manufacturing masks for Israeli Medical workers fighting the virus
We see a clear link between “making”* and the fight against Coronavirus. We ran lessons for the students about this link and at the same time we were asking ourselves “what can we do?” Because the whole concept behind our school is to solve real world problems.
We considered manufacturing ventilator parts and other things like that. But quickly we understood that the defense industry is producing ventilators, and so the main way that the maker community is getting involved today in Israel is by producing protective equipment for medical staff. The primary product being made today is protective masks with shield visors which act as splash guards. Also, they prevent the staff themselves who may have touched something contaminated by the virus from then touching their own faces. The most intensive infection is when a doctor scratches their face with contaminated hands or gloves.
The mask is relatively easy to produce and raises the level of protection (as defined by the Ministry of Health) from 20% protection to 80% second-level protection.
New students joined the making group. We upgraded the model of the mask that we are making and today we are producing more masks than anyone else in our maker community. There are 20 other makers in our group and they are making around 300-500 masks per day in total. We at the school alone are making 500-700 per day.
How is it possible that you are producing so many?
Most of the rest of the group use 3D printers that print quite slowly but there are a lot of them in Israel. We are part of a group called Maker Spaces which operates in educational institutions, and we also have laser cutters. Our vocational school falls under the auspices of the Labor Ministry so we have been able to bring our students back to school. They make for a significant, motivated and powerful workforce. Other groups can rustle up two or three volunteers at best. We are able to bring six students per day and three teachers. That’s a big and well-organized group. We have also invested the extra time into developing a model that is faster to produce. The rest simply don’t have the human resources to develop the model.
We are the first school that got approval to bring back our students. We asked for permission from the Labor Ministry and they granted it. This is not distance learning – it is hands on making.
Are the students considered essential workers?
Yes absolutely. The work they are doing is critical to the health and safety of Israel’s frontline medical staff.
Tell us about the experiences of the students and about the feedback you’ve been getting?
Let me put things in order. We are making masks for three different groups. First, hospitals, where there is a lot of need. The Ministry of Health brought a big shipment to Israel but they get a lot less than what they need. Clinics can stagger when patients come in, but hospitals receive patients all the time and the staff are very exposed. We’ve gotten requests from their equipment staff. There are many medical staff members who have come to us because they had no other solution. So, they got in touch with us. Because they feel like they aren’t getting the protection they need and they don’t have anywhere to turn.
We distribute the equipment for free, we don’t sell it. We are raising funds so that we don’t have to take money from the doctors. On a very basic level, the amount that the doctors feel protected is really improved by the masks. They’re very happy with the product.
The second group is nursing homes, where there is a huge number of staff who simply aren’t prioritized by the Ministry of Health.
The third group is community clinics.
They are all very excited to receive the masks, sometimes they send us photos and videos and you can tell from the looks on their faces just how much it means to them.
Who comes to you and how? How do you find out about the needs?
We work closely with the equipment coordinators of the hospitals. The students do everything from beginning to end. It is their final project. They will receive their vocational diploma for the work they are doing on this.
They develop the product together with the medical staff and they produce it during the days they are at the school. We are part of a network of Makers so there are all sorts of products that are developed in all different places that we take and improve and just make more of them so that there will be enough.
The amazing thing is how the students are applying everything that they learned at the school before this crisis hit. Thinking creatively and cooperatively to innovate real world solutions to real world problem. And people are noticing.
We’ve opened a parallel project of making intubation boxes for hospitals, and the first prototype is being rolled out to a major hospital in northern Israel. All sorts of staff who are exposed during specific medical procedures are asking us to help think of new solutions to protect them.