Finding the positives amid a crisis

The sign at Super 8 in Eveleth urges the community to look to the future. Managment has decided to turn the Christmas lights back on for the duration of the COVID-19 shutdown.

You wouldn’t know it by the watching the news channels or reading the newspaper, but it is not necessarily all doom and gloom out there in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

In the midst of an epic battle with a virus that takes few prisoners, there are many in America who are stepping up and showing the rest of us why we are the greatest country in the world.

3M not being one of them.

While politicians in Washington D.C. can’t seem to stop pointing fingers and using the COVID-19 pandemic as a springboard for advancing their agendas, the everyday folks who make up this nation - the doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, designers, manufacturing experts, and businessmen and women - are doing all they can to save lives and bring us together as a family.

Locally, I can’t say enough great things about the teachers and school administrators and staff from around the Iron Range - and no doubt throughout the state - who came together this week to try their best to continue our children’s education through online learning.

There were issues, of course. The Internet couldn’t keep up on Monday; some parents and/or kids had trouble keeping up all week; and more than a few teachers probably struggled with the challenge as well.

But from what I saw this week through the eyes of my kids, who had nothing but good things to say about the experience and their teachers at Mountain Iron-Buhl, the end result was a productive week of schooling given the circumstances.

Think about this: Our teachers had a little over a week to completely change the way they do their jobs and to figure out a way to make it work for hundreds of different types of students, each of which learns a little differently than the next.

Not only that, but together with administrators, custodians, bus drivers and paras, they had to figure out how to reach the students who don’t have access to the Internet or require special attention for any number of different reasons.

And they all came together and pulled it off.

Kudos.

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Then there are those from other walks of life who have gone all in and taken the fight to the virus – including a couple of great examples from right here in Minnesota.

By this point we’ve all heard about Mike Lindell, the My Pillow guy from our very home state, and his appearance at one of the President’s press conferences this week where he basically said God sent Donald Trump to us and then preceded to take a beating on social media.

It’s a shame that his words got all the negative attention, when the message should have been how awesome it is that he and his employees shifted the majority of their production of pillows and his other products to manufacturing masks for the nation’s healthcare workers.

Lindell says the company is currently making 10,000 masks per day and expected to produce 50,000 cotton face masks by the end of this week.

Meanwhile at the University of Minnesota, researchers, in conjunction with a Thief River Falls company and others, announced late last week (with little attention from the mainstream media) that they had created an inexpensive to make makeshift ventilators using local parts.

According to a story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, researchers tested the prototype on a pig, keeping the animal breathing for an hour and confirming the possibility of building these homemade devices to help during the coronavirus pandemic.

The researchers developed the mechanical ventilator as a compact device the size of a cereal box that does not require pressurized oxygen or air supply, unlike commercially available mechanical ventilators.

The device, dubbed the “Coventor,” which was created in collaboration with the university and local industry leaders, features a frame and mechanical actuator designed to stabilize and compress a commercially available ambulatory ventilation bag connected to the patient’s endotracheal tube and external compressed oxygen, the device can also compress ambient air if oxygen is unavailable. That frame can be metal stamped, 3D printed or modified consumer goods, according to the Coventor website.

“The reason that we’re here today is that somebody needed this ventilator that we’re making, yesterday,” University of Minnesota anesthesiologist Dr. Stephen Richardson said in a video created by the research team. “This allows those patients who would otherwise not have an opportunity to survive, to survive. It gives people a chance.”

Digi-Key out of Thief River was one of several companies that partnered with the U of M to build the ventilator.

Ventilators usually cost between $3,000 and $13,000. The new design can be built for around $1,500.

Other Minnesota companies that have stepped up include:

• Versare Solutions, a Minneapolis maker of cubicles and room dividers, which has switched to making plexiglass screens for checkout lanes and reception areas after a request from a California pharmacy.

• Lightning Kayaks factory in Minneapolis is making face shields after requests from nurses.

• Protolabs in Maple Plain, Ajax Metal Forming Solutions in Fridley, Wyoming Machine in Stacy and Twin City Die Castings in Minneapolis are all newly making components for companies or universities that manufacture ventilators and health care prototypes.

• Minnetonka-based Canviva stopped making CBD oils and lotions in favor of hand sanitizer. It plans to ship 60,000 bottles to customers in 10 days.

• Edina hockey-jersey factory Gemini Athletic Wear is sewing hospital-grade face masks with a Centers for Disease Control-specified fabric. Gemini just shipped 2,000 masks to the Life Spark nurses group, CDI Vascular Care, and is in talks with two area hospitals.

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There are similar stories from across the country.

Under Armour, the Baltimore-based footwear and apparel brand, announced on March 31 it plans to manufacture and distribute more than 500,000 fabric face masks while assembling and distributing 50,000 specially equipped fanny packs to support the 28,000 healthcare providers and staff that comprise the University of Maryland Medial System.

The one-piece face mask they designed doesn’t require sewing. The mask’s origami-style folds mold the fabric into the desired mask shape.

Under Amour senior vice-president of advanced material and manufacturing innovation Randy Harward estimates the company can generate as many as 100,000 masks per week moving forward utilizing its knife cutter which can carve nearly 100pieces of fabric at once.

Then there is this story out of Connecticut, where a group at Yale has come up with a way to recycle masks.

Dr. Patrick Kenney, medical director of the supply chain for Yale Medicine and Yale New Haven Health, told the CT Mirror that he and his research are doing it with a repurposed machine that’s normally used in the hospital to fumigate hospital rooms with hydrogen peroxide vapor after a patient who has an infection is discharged.

The chemical process takes about five hours, with additional time to extract the chemicals from the room and the masks. In their preliminary Kenney said the vaporized process killed three types of viruses selected as proxies for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that’s causing the current pandemic.

And the mask filtration capabilities remained intact.

The health care system has four working fumigation machines and four designated rooms for the process. Kenney estimates that in theory, they could recycle up to 15,000 respirator masks a day if necessary.

The recycled masks are being put in storage for now and Kenney said his team is willing to share the process with other health care systems looking for solutions to their decreasing supplies of N95 respirator masks.

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