Vermont company repurposes snorkeling gear into PPE

Published: Apr. 22, 2020 at 6:01 PM EDT
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From people in their homes to small businesses to major manufacturers, there's a huge effort to make masks to protect against the coronavirus. Our Olivia Lyons shows you how one newly designed mask is being put to the test in a local hospital.

The Southwestern Vermont Medical Center has teamed up with Mack Molding to take a deep dive into creating new masks for hospital workers.

"It was a four-week push to get as many masks up to Vermont as we could," said Adam Lehman of Synectic.

When the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center realized they might not have enough PPE, they reached out to Mack Molding in Arlington to see if they could come up with something to help out.

"The hospital had really called us and said, 'Hey, at this point in time we are running out of masks and we need masks in a couple of weeks. We need something we can give to our employees to protect them,'" Lehman said.

That was in the last week of March. Since then, Synectic, a company owned by Mack Molding, has produced about 500 masks, 300 of which are at SVMC. The base of the newly designed mask was originally designed for snorkeling. But where the snorkel would usually come out, there are two filters to keep out the virus and bacteria.

"I take my glasses off, so that is one thing. You can't wear glasses in this snorkel device, so that is why we have plenty of N95s for those who need them. And you place the respirator over like this," said Dr. Trey Dobson of SVMC.

Employees wear the new masks whenever they're around a patient suspected of having COVID-19. Dobson says patients have been very receptive to the new device. But most importantly, it has alleviated a ton of anxiety.

"Oh, it's tremendous. I mean, first off having our staff know that priority to keep them safe alleviates a lot. We have a saying, there is no emergency in a pandemic. So before our staff can go see a patient, they must wear their PPE," Dobson said.

As for Lehman, he says there is always one project a company does that will be remembered forever. He says for them, this is it.

"From an engineering perspective it's been great to be able to help out the hospital and use creativity and think out of the box and come up with something kind of novel to help out the front-line people," Lehman said.

Dodson said he did find himself getting a headache after wearing the mask for a few hours and some tension in his face and neck from talking loudly. But overall, the feedback has been positive.

The masks have not yet been certified to pass air or sealing tests because that would have added four to six weeks to the production timeline, but Lehman says they hope to get that certification soon.