These unsung heroes are working together to get health care workers the PPE they need to fight COVID-19.

By Christina Oehler
May 19, 2020
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The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis—one that's prompted ordinary people to come together to help ease suffering and lower infection rates. One group, NYC Makes PPE, is committed to doing just that. This diverse coalition is doing the hands-on work of making and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care workers across New York City.

Co-founder Jay Li tells Health that NYC Makes PPE is composed of "makers," group members who know their way around technology and engineering. Since launching on March 19, NYC Makes PPE has produced tens of thousands of face masks, face shields, and other items using equipment as varied as sewing machines and 3D printers.

Though they compile their resources and plan distribution through the coalition, the members of NYC Makes PPE make their products in their own individual locations, so they can operated within current stay-at-home orders. "We started out as a couple of makers who got together and decided to coordinate our efforts, and the community has grown considerably since," says Lee.

NYC Makes PPE is part of vast effort to supply health care workers with protective gear they need to avoid contracting the coronavirus as they treat patients. The pandemic left hospitals and health care facilities without enough PPE to keep doctors, nurses, and other staffers safe. On March 19, the World Health Organization shared a document stating, "The current global stockpile of PPE is insufficient, particularly for medical masks and respirators; the supply of gowns and goggles is soon expected to be insufficient also."

NYC Makes PPE was a joint effort from the start. Lee was already part of a science and technology cooperative called Hack Manhattan. That group joined forces with a similar organization, fat cat Fab Lab. People from the city's science and art communities responded to the call for volunteers and got to work, using their talents to chip in however they could.

One member, Becky Stern, uses her sewing skills to help produce reusable masks for both health care workers and the general public. "You see a need, and you try to do what you can to meet that need," says Stern. "It's clear we're not getting the type of leadership we need from the top down, so everyone should feel empowered to participate and help from the ground up."

Everything the group makes is fueled by donations and then given out at no cost. To date, NYC Makes PPE has raised over $82,000, all of which has gone towards purchasing materials to make PPE. They've made a total of 27,408 face shields, 9,961 cotton masks, and 2,779 N95 masks, which they've distributed to hospitals, firefighters, transit personnel, and nursing homes around the city. If you're interested in learning more and donating to their cause, check out their GoFundMe page.

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