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Scores answer call in response to Hawaii’s personal protective equipment shortage during coronavirus crisis

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Dentist Eric Muraoka of Kaizen Dental Center has turned his dental lab into a factory for face shields needed by medical professionals combating COVID-19. Muraoka has made 500 shields so far and has been giving them away at no cost.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Dentist Eric Muraoka of Kaizen Dental Center has turned his dental lab into a factory for face shields needed by medical professionals combating COVID-19. Muraoka has made 500 shields so far and has been giving them away at no cost.

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Office manager Ha Ngo held sheets of overhead transparencies that were donated.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Office manager Ha Ngo held sheets of overhead transparencies that were donated.

  • PHOTO COURTESY JABSOM
                                A University of Hawaii at Manoa researcher at the Department of Theatre and Dance initiated an effort to sew masks for health care workers.

    PHOTO COURTESY JABSOM

    A University of Hawaii at Manoa researcher at the Department of Theatre and Dance initiated an effort to sew masks for health care workers.

When Troy Enoka flew home to Oahu from New York City over a week ago, he volunteered to isolate himself for 14 days to protect his elderly grandparents from the possibility of getting the coronavirus even before a two-week quarantine was mandated in Hawaii.

It didn’t take long for the New York University graduate to become bored, however, and he began to search out ways to contribute to Hawaii’s war on COVID-19 from the four walls of his own room.

Enoka connected with medical student pals Tate Higashihara and Emma Whiteley and together they formed Masks for Hawaii, or #Masks4HI, with a mission “to ensure that our nurses, doctors, technicians, and other essential members of the health care team have the appropriate personal protective equipment.”

In its first week the team set up a website — masks4hi.com — and established a drop-off center at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. With the help of a UH classmate on Hawaii island, they also helped arrange a delivery of masks to a medical clinic there in need.

“We’re just trying to do whatever we can,” Enoka said, “because once it gets bad, then it’s too late.”

>> PHOTOS: Honolulu dental lab revamped into face mask factory for those fighting coronavirus

Even before state officials on Wednesday pledged to spend $13 million on personal protective equipment, or PPE, a growing number of people, groups and institutions began stepping up to try to fill the shortage being felt by workers on the front lines of the growing pandemic.

Clinics, care homes, private physicians, first responders and others at risk of exposure are reporting PPE shortages across Hawaii — not to mention meal preparers, delivery workers and others deemed essential and dealing with the crisis.

And while most hospitals appear to be in better shape as far as PPE is concerned, they might not be as well off as one might think.

Honolulu emergency room doctor Jason Fleming told the Punahou School Podcast published Tuesday that most Hawaii hospitals he’s aware of are less than two weeks from being out of PPE, a situation he said is reflective of hospitals across the country.

People have taken notice and are trying to do what they can, from a Waipahu Junior Girl Scout who is creating reusable facemasks for her Bronze Award project (complete with YouTube tutorial), to members of the Rotary Club of Kapolei Sunset who are sewing HEPA-filter facemasks, to a Honolulu acupuncturist using his connections in China to funnel factory-made surgical facemasks to the healthcare industry.

At Kaizen Dental Center, Dr. Eric Muraoka transformed his dental lab into a factory, using a 3D printer to help create hundreds of clear face shields that can be used by doctors, nurses and other health workers.

On Wednesday, Muraoka authored a post on the Hawaii Coronavirus Support Network Facebook page announcing he can produce clip-on shields and provide them to the medical community for free.

“The calls have been nonstop and we’ve been cranking them out,” Muraoka said Thursday. The dentist added that five hospitals and 10 care homes had already called with requests for some 1,000 face shields.

Local educational institutions are also answering the call. At Mid-Pacific Institute and ‘Iolani School, 3D printers are being deployed to help supply thousands of face shields to local hospitals, nursing homes, retirement homes and first responders.

Mid-Pacific Director of Education Technology Brian Grantham programmed six 3D printers to create the plastic headband component that holds the plastic shield and elastic headband, while faculty at ‘Iolani found open-source 3D-printed designs and worked with a healthcare provider to prototype masks and face shields.

‘Iolani’s Sullivan Center 3D printer bay has more than 20 printers, and operating at a maximum rate, over 100 face shields a day could be produced, according to their calculations. The team also came up with other designs that don’t require 3D printing that can be produced more quickly.

The goal is to make several hundred masks a day starting next week. “We are doing all that we can to help our community come through this as safe and secure as possible,” said Timothy Cottrell, head of ‘Iolani School.

At UH-Manoa, assistant research professor Angel Yanagihara, along with faculty, students and staff in the Department of Theatre and Dance, launched a campaign to sew homemade fabric masks.

Yanagihara said the masks will be pleated for a better fit and made of densely woven, “breathable” cotton with pockets that can be inserted with a disposable near-N95 nonwoven filter material. After use, she said, the cloth masks may be laundered and reused.

Department professor Maile Speetjens said the campaign will give students working as hourly employees a chance to continue working and get the pay they rely on.

“Having the opportunity to utilize our skills in a way that serves our state is a true honor,” she said in an email. “This work grounds us and gives us a sense of purpose during these times.”

Victor Tan, an acupuncturist who helps run three nonprofits, including the Hawaii Asia Pacific Institute and the Hawaii Mainland Chinese Overseas Association, on Wednesday donated 500 surgical masks each to The Queen’s Medical Center and Kaiser Permanente. Last week Tan delivered 1,200 masks to three Oahu care homes.

Tan, who left China nearly 30 years ago and settled in Hawaii, two months ago ordered thousands of masks for medical facilities in and around Wuhan. Now he’s using his China connections to obtain masks to give away locally and to some mainland institutions.

Tan said more masks are on the way to the islands.

“Of course we have to do this. I love Hawaii. Over the years so many people have helped us. We have to do something for the area. It’s time,” he said.


Star-Advertiser staff writer Lee Cataluna contributed to this story.


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