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NSWC PHD Employees Shift Face Covering Production Into High Gear for the Greater Community

By Carol Lawrence | NSWC Port Hueneme Division | May 22, 2020

PORT HUENEME, Calif. —

What began as a few face shields and masks made by Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division (NSWC PHD) personnel for friends and family has ballooned into hundreds of protective coverings donated to keep the local community and beyond safe during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

For local health care workers, at-risk individuals and others in need, NSWC PHD employees Thibault Robert and Sevag Rezian have 3D printed more than 390 plastic face shields and masks in their homes. Amy Lee has sewn more than 90 cloth face masks for the nonprofit Health Care Foundation for Ventura County (HCFVC), which distributes them to health care workers with the Ventura County Health Agency. Kevin Mak raised and donated more than $700 to pay for materials, and Ellen Jochums coordinated a brigade of mask-sewing volunteers who contributed about 115 masks.

“It’s just our way of contributing how we can,” Robert said. “It just didn’t seem right to have our 3D machines sit idle when we could be supporting those who are risking themselves to support our community and the fleet. It also made sense that the best way to fight COVID-19, and to keep the number of transmissions down, was to help keep people from getting infected in the first place.”

3D masks and shields

Engineers Robert and Rezian got wind of a substantial effort underway by the country’s general manufacturing community to 3D print masks and shields to resupply escalating shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Robert 3D printed and donated his first batch of masks and shields to a friend who is a nurse handling COVID-19 patients in Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, Va. where he and his wife are from.

“They were getting one mask per person per day, and then they ran out,” Robert said. “People began personally buying masks. So, I made 50 face shields for her and her ward. I also decided to make 50 face masks, and so sent those as well.”

He found a clinically-tested face shield design on the National Institutes of Health website and modified it for extra comfort but also to hold the shield more securely in place and to create an alternative solution when elastic to secure the shield became hard to find.

To produce the face masks, he chose the Montana Mask face mask design by doctors who, on their website, explain the masks are not approved by federal health agencies but have gone through extensive testing and are now used by some hospitals once N95 mask supplies run out. Robert also adapted them for comfort and made medium and small sizes.

He also donated about 175 masks locally to “various at-risk or high-contact individuals, primarily health care providers, but also to elderly or health impaired individuals, and to essential personnel who may not have access to N95 face masks,” he said, as well as PHD employees and their families, and his employer, JSL Technologies Inc., in Oxnard.

Robert also included 15 to 20 replacement filters with each mask.
His friend Timpi Singh donated $500 to help purchase filament.

“Before we even considered donations, he insisted on donating when he heard what I was doing,” Robert said.

Rezian also saw the 3D face coverings printing effort take off online, and began making masks at his home, first using one printer and then another two he repaired.

The first 20 masks he produced for friends and family grew to between 65 and 70 after he posted an offer to make masks on his Facebook page.

“My friend said her friend works at a medical clinic and wanted about 30 to 40 masks, so I made those for them,” Rezian said. He made more masks for local nurses, physician assistants and office administrators who responded to a similar offer NSWC PHD colleague Mak posted on his neighborhood Facebook page.

The basic mask without the N95 filter takes about two hours to print, Rezian added. He then attaches straps, adds the seal and cuts small squares out of 3M specialized air conditioning filters that block virus and bacteria-carrying particles that he inserts inside the squares in the mask.
The filters are widely available, Robert said, and people can easily replace them in the mask.

“We’re all at home, and I figured I had spare time and resources, and might as well do something good that makes a difference,” he said. “I give a shout out to the people who designed this mask. All the credit goes to them for starting this.”

Mak, a cybersecurity engineer, set up a GoFundMe campaign to help Rezian, who he knew was spending his own money buying material.
He raised about $600, he said, and then when supplies of air conditioning filters ran out, he found off-the-beaten-path websites, such as OfferUp and Facebook Marketplace, to buy them, spending about $120.

“I had to get creative and look for Mom and Pop shops,” he said. “I know there’s a tremendous need, so I’m just trying to do what I can to help out.”

Sewn masks

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandated wearing some kind of face covering, that’s when Lee, a Harpoon USN engineering lead, turned on her sewing machine.

Like the others, Lee’s homemade masks for distant friends and families grew after she learned through an Oxnard neighborhood Facebook post about the Indivisible Ventura group and its efforts sewing washable masks for health care workers.

She found mask designs through sewing blogs, and then modified the design when the elastic shortage hit. Lee also made two types—one for the health care workers to cover the N95 masks to preserve them, and a second for everyone else, to which she added a filter pocket. She also customized a headband with buttons for a nurse whose ears were sore from the elastic; this would allow the elastic to wrap around the buttons instead of the ears.

To make the process as efficient as possible, Lee sews in batches.

“A lot of mask-making requires sewing, ironing and then sewing again,” she said. “So, kind of like an assembly line, I do all the cutting parts first, then back and forth with the sewing and ironing cutting parts. To sanitize, I press-iron all of them individually.”

Lee has made 91 as of this week—46 of which went to the HCFVC. The agency operates two hospitals and 46 ambulatory clinics.

“I’ve seen people stepping up and volunteering (outside), but I can’t do that because I have to stay at home and watch my children,” she said. “It’s also a good excuse for me to start sewing again.”

Jochums, a supportability manager, enlisted a small force of volunteers with the Camarillo Amber’s Light Lions Club to sew masks for the HCFVC after learning about the need through a Facebook post.

“When I heard about the (need for) masks, I immediately thought of our lions,” Jochums said. “We had a few that grabbed onto the opportunity and got busy. In addition to the 75 masks they made out of the 9,557 masks overall that local volunteers made for HCFVC, two of our volunteer lions made 40 masks for families currently residing at Ronald McDonald House Charities.”

Making masks herself for friends and family has been a creative outlet, she added, and she’s modified the design several times to make one that’s comfortable, washable, sturdier, more attractive and comes off and on easily. Plus, having them on hand has motivated her husband and adult children to wear them as well.

“Deciding to start making masks has helped me feel a little less powerless,” Jochums said, “and gave me a reason to step away at “quitting time” from my office and move to another room in the house.”