Above: PISCES program director Rodrigo Romo (left) delivers 3D-printed mask tension relief straps to Hilo Medical Center. On right, Elena Cabatu, director of public affairs at HMC.

As part of a coalition called Hawaii STEM Community Care, PISCES is working to stem the tide of the COVID-19 pandemic in Hawaii by making personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers and first responders. The group is pooling resources, skills and knowledge to produce protective face shields, face mask comfort bands, door openers, and UV sterilizers—items in short supply needed to protect front-line workers against infection.

“Working as a first responder, I know the critical need for PPE in our community,” said Christian Wong, executive director of HSTM and a retired Big Island fire fighter. “Connecting the needs of our first responders with our Big Island STEM community allows Hawaii STEM Community Care to design and produce PPE that fits the specific needs of our health care community.”

So far, the group has manufactured and delivered more than 1,300 mask comfort bands to healthcare facilities across the Big Island. More than 500 face shields and aluminum door openers have been assembled and will be distributed soon. Additionally, a prototype UV sterilizer for face masks is undergoing tests at the University of Hawaii at Hilo to confirm its effectiveness.

“I appreciate the speed of these efforts,” said Dr. Craig Burger, a consultant for the group. “Iterating directly with local PPE designers and manufacturers allows us to meet an ever-changing need. Any reduction in anxiety or an increase in comfort we can provide is so crucial for the physical health and mental well-being of our front-line providers.”

Hawaii STEM Community Care includes volunteers and leaders from Hawaii Science and Technology Museum (HSTM), NexTech, Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, Big Island Community Coronavirus Response Initiative, Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory, and East Asian Observatory, as well as students. The group recently received a $5,000 grant from Hawaii Community Foundation to continue producing and distributing PPE donations.

“There are a lot of people who are passionate about the problem,” said Kean Wong, co-coordinator of Big Island Community Coronavirus Response Initiative. “We’re finding as we’re able to coordinate with people and provide them resources they may not have, we’re able to help out and have a larger impact than any single individual can.”