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Teachers' supplies, equipment contributing to face shield production
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Teachers' supplies, equipment contributing to face shield production

From the Coronavirus update Northeast Iowa series
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WATERLOO — As the effort to produce face shields for medical professionals geared up in the Cedar Valley, some educators found themselves becoming part of the supply chain.

Anesa Kajtazovic, development director for the UnityPoint Health Allen Foundation, contacted schools about donating the plastic sheets teachers write on when using overhead projectors. It’s a technology that has largely fallen by the wayside with the growing use of digital devices in education.

Dave Will, a Columbus Catholic High School math teacher, still had ample supplies of the stuff, though.

“I’m kind of a pack rat,” he noted, something that comes out of being raised by parents who lived through the Great Depression. “I’ve been here 51 years and I never throw anything away.”

Cedar Valley 3D printers help plug face shield shortage

That included 14 or 15 rolls of the clear acetate material along with a couple boxes of 100 sheets. Altogether, he estimated having “about 1,000 feet” of the plastic packed away.

His use of the sheets in the classroom was phased out during recent years as more modern technology displaced overhead projectors. All Columbus students are issued iPad tablet computers and the school’s classrooms have Apple TVs.

Still, he stopped workers from throwing away the sheets when some remodeling was being done at the school, suggesting it might come in handy someday.

“I finally got to say ‘I told you so,’” said Will. But, he added, “I never dreamt it would be good for this. ... It’s just kind of neat everybody’s pulling together to help out with the situation.”

A sheet serves as a clear shield when attached to an apparatus that holds it in front of the face. It can protect the wearer from saliva droplets that may contain the novel coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19.

Waterloo carriage company, volunteers assemble face shields

Kajtazovic has seen a lot of generosity from the community in the weeks since the pandemic began affecting Iowa and the Cedar Valley.

“Just a lot of people came forward and donated whatever they had,” she noted. “People have just been so kind. I really get emotional and teary eyed about this.”

The Waterloo Career Center gave supplies their nursing students would normally be using in class. The Cedar Falls Menards had a single box of N95 masks that the assistant manager purchased and donated to UnityPoint Health Allen Hospital. Multiple people and organizations have either been making personal protective equipment such as cloth masks and the face shields for the hospital or donating materials.

After getting Will’s donation to those assembling the face shields, Kajtazovic heard from Waterloo Community Schools that it had another 20,000 projector sheets available in a warehouse. “So talk about a pleasant surprise,” she said.

A group involving the University of Northern Iowa and Hawkeye Community College is working with 3-D printers at Cedar Valley TechWorks to make the plastic visors for the face shields. The Waterloo Public Library is also making the component with its 3-D printer.

Cedar Falls teacher Jared Pirkl, who happened to bring a 3-D printer home from school at spring break, wanted to contribute to the effort, as well. He had written a grant to purchase the printer for hands-on instruction with his sixth graders at Hansen Elementary School. The Waverly man had been learning more about how to use the device, which constructs items out of plastic filament, so he was ready to get started.

Since connecting with Kajtazovic and volunteers assembling the face shields at the Jerald Sulky Co., he has been in continuous production. Running day and night, “it’s kind of like white noise in the house now among the family.”

Pirkl noted that “it takes anywhere from 4-1/2 to five hours to make one. Each day, I can usually get about three to five of them done.”

In the course of a week, he can complete 15 to 20 of the face shield visors. Kajtazovic has been replenishing his supply of plastic filament to keep the effort going.

Pirkl said he’ll “keep running as long as they still need them.”

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Staff Writer

After 18-plus years reporting on local education, I’ve graduated to covering the city of Cedar Falls. Family and church commitments keep me busy outside of work along with lots of biking, rowing and skiing – pretty good for a guy with fake hips.

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