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The Helpers: SPC professor creates 3D-printed face shields for medical workers

Jonathan Barnes has been distributing the shields for free to hospitals and doctors. Now the community has jumped in to help.

Fred Rogers once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

An occasional series.

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Before the threat of the coronavirus forced St. Petersburg College to go completely online, Jonathan Barnes spent his days helping students understand art and learn pottery and printmaking.

Now, grateful to still have a job, the professor and department of humanities and fine arts chair’s attention has shifted to what he could do for the people on the front lines of the pandemic.

His friends in the medical field had been complaining about the shortage of personal protective equipment. Barnes even heard that one hospital was so desperate that staff there was using scuba diving masks.

Barnes wanted to create the face shields that a friend had seen but couldn’t secure. During his research, he came across an open source design from a Czech Republic company called Prusa. He was inspired that the company had gone into full production of face shields.

He tested it out on his 3D printer at home, and it worked well, but his printer is tiny. Barnes wanted his effort to make an impact, so he e-mailed SPC leadership, who let him take home two of the school’s printers.

The face shields wouldn’t replace the hospital-grade N95 masks that are in such short supply.

“It’s not the same, but it’s better than what a lot of these folks have right now.”

Barnes calls the shields “giant sneeze guards." He cuts sheets of plastic Mylar with an X-acto knife and uses a three-hole punch to attach to the 3D-printed frames.

Once his wife shared an image of the shield online, people on social media started pitching in, using their own printers. He now has five people helping him, some perfect strangers.

A 3D printer makes the frames for face shields for medical workers. [Courtesy of Jonathan Barnes]

Another man from a plastics manufacturing company offered to cut the Mylar at his facility.

Others pick up the shields to distribute to hospitals.

“It’s crazy, people show up and drop off a box, or they show up and pick up a box,” he said. “I’ve been trying not to interact face-to-face with people. And so it’s like, hey, they’re in front of the gate.”

A box of face shields that Jonathan Barnes made sits waiting to be picked up for distribution to hospitals and doctors. [Courtesy of Jonathan Barnes]

So far, 50 face shields have been made and distributed to hospitals in Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Ocala and Sarasota. Barnes said the demand is growing.

He feels that giving them away is the right thing to do and will try to keep production going while he juggles his job working from home as a professor and life as a parent.

“It’s really nice to be able to help with something," he said. "I think so many people feel like super helpless right now.”

Know a Helper? Contact jpendygraft@tampabay.com.

Read other stories in this series:

Butcher John Riesebeck is embracing a family tradition

Retired teacher turned mask maker finds herself busier and busier

Isolation, frustration inspired action for Gulfport woman

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