PPE. Prior to COVID-19, this shorthand for personal protective equipment was merely an acronym whose meaning was mostly known only to medical workers. But once the pandemic hit, its scarcity in hospitals, nursing homes, myriad medical facilities and eventually, to everyday folks became a glaring public health issue given how contagious the airborne coronavirus is, particularly at a time when a vaccine wasn’t yet on the horizon. While the early federal response to PPE needs was a case of confused, mixed messaging, grassroots organizations, small businesses and private individuals immediately leapt into the fray to address the shortages.
New Hyde Park’s Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care and Rehabilitation was one beneficiary. The facility received a major cross-state assist from Hatteras, a commercial printing firm based in Tinton Falls, NJ, that produced and delivered 2,000 face shields for Parker’s dedicated frontline health-care workers.
Hatteras President Bill Duerr described the experience as “most humbling,” adding, “there’s been an overwhelming response.”
Plainedge High School nurse and Mineola resident Miriam Shelvin launched Operation PPE Mineola, which started out as an online request for masks for local nurses who live and work around the community. In April, Shelvin’s organization sent 3,335 pieces of PPE to facilities and hospitals across Long Island, Queens and the rest of New York City.
“I am so proud that a small community like Mineola was able to make so many pieces of PPE to donate to so many hospitals and healthcare centers,” Shelvin explained.
Municipalities also got into the act as well. The Village of Farmingdale distributed 3,000 masks to village residents and seniors, along with those people who are immunodeficient. Masks were also delivered to myriad senior housing complexes in the village including Grand Haven, The Knolls, Hardscrabble and Woodbridge. Additionally, Ken Marcus from Allstate Insurance, worked with Mayor Ralph Ekstrand and Eric Alexander of Vision Long Island and donated 100 N95 masks to the Farmingdale Fire Department and Daleview nursing home.
Hicksville High School alums Kirk Larsen and Genevieve Jezick hit their sewing machines after taking to the Internet to find a template to create homemade masks. The pattern they found, known as the Olson (N95) mask, had multiple sizes, which made the pattern a lot more universal. A demonstration video from UnityPoint Health of Cedar Rapids in Iowa, helped Larsen and Jezick create a mask that employed pipe cleaners at the bridge of the nose to ensure better closure and a place for a HEPA filter. They revised, made more prototypes and started to produce the new masks immediately. Larsen and Jezick used a little quote on their Facebook and Instagram pages, regarding the creation of masks for the healthcare community: “What we’re doing is a drop in the bucket. When the bucket is empty, every drop helps.”
PPE support came from some unlikely places, such as the Hicksville Library. It was here that library computer technician Dan Russ borrowed a 3D printer from his job to set up a command center in the kitchen of his Levittown home to create face shields. Among the local medical facilities that directly benefited from the Hicksville Library’s efforts were St. Joseph’s Hospital, Manhasset’s Northwell Health and Cerebral Palsy of Nassau over in Roosevelt. Despite the simplicity of his shield designs, Russ was pleasantly surprised at how they were received.
“When I look at them, they look sort of cheesy in a way,” he said. “I was essentially giving them to people I know in the medical field that weren’t getting the proper equipment and they were super appreciative to get them. I was surprised at how happy they were to get them because they didn’t have anything at the time.”