Boston Students Help Repair Medical Masks After Tufts Receives Damaged Donation

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James Aronson oversees a makeshift assembly line for repairing expired N95 face masks at the Tufts Dental School (Screenshot of Tufts video)
James Aronson oversees a makeshift assembly line for repairing expired N95 face masks at the Tufts Dental School (Screenshot of Tufts video)

A dire shortage of face masks, gowns, respirators and other personal protective equipment has governments and hospitals around the country turning to unconventional sources to keep their health care workers safe from the threat of the coronavirus.

When the Tufts Medical Center accepted a private donation of some 6,000 face masks in March, their gratitude was mixed with frustration: Although the masks were still wrapped in their original packaging and in serviceable condition, the elastic chords used to secure them to the wearer's face had become so brittle that they snapped easily.

Yet, the masks were certified N95, and in the current climate, Tufts needed all the masks they could get.

"Not using the masks wasn’t really an option," says Amanda Schwartz, a master's student at the university's Fletcher School. "So we had to figure out a way to repair them quickly."

Schwartz is one of several Tufts students who answered the call from a group of military fellows, who are volunteering their logistics expertise to the Tufts Medical Center amidst the COVID-19 crisis.

They put out the word to Boston's student community and within a matter of days, dozens of students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University and Harvard University had come together to prototype a solution, source several miles of new elastic chord and set up an appropriately spaced, makeshift assembly line across a series of empty classrooms at the Tufts Dental School.

In an emailed statement, a Tufts Medical Center spokesperson said: "We are extremely grateful to the military fellows and students at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, for their time and dedication in repairing approximately 6,000 N95 masks for us to add to our stockpile."

The students say they've fixed over one third of the 6,000 masks so far.

WBUR also asked Dr. Kimi Kobayashi, chief quality officer at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, if expired N95 masks can still be used. You can read the interview highlights here, and listen below:

This article was originally published on April 02, 2020.

This segment aired on April 2, 2020.


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Wilder Fleming produces radio and podcasts for WBUR.



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