The global COVID-19 pandemic has inspired countless instances of people banding together to help those on the front lines of the fight against the virus. Among the many examples is the MasksOn project, an already robust and rapidly expanding effort to address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
The team of volunteers at MasksOn has come up with a creative solution to this shortage: adapt full-face snorkel masks to fit breathing filters already in use in hospitals. To this end, they are mass-producing adaptors using 3D printing and distributing the completed masks to hospitals and clinics across the country.
The volunteers include students from the Neuroimaging Training Program (NTP), a Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology (HST) program that has long partnered with the MGH Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. The connection with MasksOn comes courtesy of the irrepressible Randy Gollub, Martinos faculty member and co-director of the NTP. Gollub’s husband, Jon Hirschtick, a senior executive at PTC and founder of computer-aided design (CAD) software companies, is a key driver and one of the leaders of the MasksOn team.
NTP student Ellen DeGennaro was one of the first people Gollub contacted about joining the team. Seeing that the project was “founded on sound device design with lots of buy-in from the medical community,” she says, she jumped at the chance to help. Initially, she spent time on the assembly line putting together parts for an early version of the masks. Her role quickly expanded, though. Now, she is co-leading Volunteer Operations and Personnel Safety alongside her HST classmate, Aditi Gupta.
DeGennaro’s work with the project is twofold. First, she is working to mobilize her network to recruit more help for the effort. “As a graduate student in Health Sciences and Technology at MIT and Harvard, I’m in a really great position to know lots of other graduate and medical students who may have flexible schedules right now, as well as who have relevant expertise in medical device design, biomedical engineering, and clinical work,” she says.
The other side of her role, and the second part of her title, reflects a realization she and MasksOn colleagues had early in the process: When you are working on an assembly line, practicing good social distancing is hard. To address this challenge, DeGennaro has been organizing volunteer shift schedules and assembly line workflows to make sure the organization is mitigating the risk of the volunteer population acquiring and transmitting COVID-19 at each and every step.
MasksOn established a goal of deploying 50,000 masks over a period of 3 to 12 weeks, helping protect 50,000 high-risk physicians. The organization estimates that the tested, reusable and sanitize-able masks will provide at least one million Clinician Protected Days during the COVID crisis.
For her part, DeGennaro is thrilled to be a member of the dedicated team working tirelessly to help keep clinicians safe during these challenging and largely unprecedented times. “Everyone working for MasksOn has been giving it their all because we all see our mission as so critical and time-sensitive,” she says. “For every healthcare worker that we can protect, that has a force-multiplying effect of enabling them to care for sick patients longer, and to keep them from spreading illness to their colleagues as well.”
Gollub is tremendously proud of the work her husband, the HST students and the entire MasksOn team are doing to help protect healthcare workers who are doing the most intensive care for the sickest of patients.
“When my husband told me that the MasksOn development team needed volunteers who would be able to quickly, correctly and safely assemble hundreds of their prototype PPE masks, I immediately thought of my NTP students,” she says. “Who better to step up to this critically important task than biomedical engineers committed to putting their prodigious skills to work to save lives?” She was not at all surprised when she received several immediate responses to her email call for help, or to hear that Ellen and Aditi had stepped up to do more than just assemble masks.
To learn more about the project, please visit MasksOn.org.