A Virginia teen is using his time off from school to help those in his community amid growing fears over the novel coronavirus.
Charles Randolph, 13, says he’s very much aware of the global pandemic that has spread a contagion to more than 530,000 people across the world. When his head isn’t in a book, Randolph said he makes sure to keep up with current events.
“My mom has me on a super strict schedule,” he told local station WJLA. “It’s not the best thing in the world, but two hours of homework every day, don’t enjoy that often, but you know.”
The teen is keeping busy at his Falls Church home, where he hatched the idea to begin making face masks using his parents’ 3D printer. Randolph said he figured the DIY masks could provide protection to his ailing uncle and others as the highly transmissible virus continues to spread.
“I saw in the news that high-risk patients, people with existing diseases like heart problems and asthma — I thought this would help him, ” he said of his relative, who’s in Atlanta awaiting a heart transplant.
The seventh-grader got his first glimpse at 3D technology and how it works during an enrichment class his parents enrolled him in. He started making toys on their printer at home and has since graduated to making masks, the template for which he found on a public domain site, WJLA reports.
“You use a slicer which takes the product that you got off Thingiverse and it turns it into code that the 3D printer can read,” Randolph explained, adding, “This is the first real, useful thing that I’ve made.”
The teen is just one of millions of Americans hunkering down at home due to shelter-in-place orders amid the outbreak who are now using their free time to craft homemade masks out of fabric, recycled plastics and even old bras. Healthcare professionals are facing a shortage of the essential items these days, so people are creating their own to donate to local hospitals.
According to CNN, retailer JOANN Fabrics and Craft Stores posted an online tutorial on how to stitch face masks last week and is encouraging people to drop them off at store locations, after which they’ll be given to health care workers in the community.
With the donations have come a very important question, however: Are they effective at slowing the spread of coronavirus?
While the do-it-yourself alternatives can provide a loose barrier to prevent certain pathogens from getting in, they’re not designed to stop the transmission of the COVID-19 virus.
“The only mask the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] considers safe from you getting the coronavirus, the only way to actually prevent you from inhaling it, is the N95 mask,” Captain Michael Doyle, a U.S. Army New York National Guard physician assistant, told USA Today in a recent interview.
“The DIY masks, albeit creative, are only to serve as a reminder for us to not touch our face,” Doyle added.
While his 3D-printed masks may not be the best at protecting doctors and nurses on the front lines, Randolph says they’re certainly useful for people like his great-uncle who have underlying health issues.
Each mask costs about a dollar to make, and he plans to crank out more to donate to those who might need them.
“It may not be 100 percent of a filtration system, but it works,” the teen said.