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Students making face shields to protect against COVID-19

Homeschool students in Jessamine and other counties are working to make face shields to protect doctors and nurses, emergency medical personnel, police officers, retail workers and others from the coronavirus.

Andrew Gowan, 17, of Nicholasville, his brother Jacob, 14, and their mom, Kelli, who is one of the robotics team coaches, have two of the group’s seven three-dimensional printers at home and are among those students making the shields.

They are also making plastic “strain relievers” for N95 face masks so those who have to wear them all day don’t have their ears rubbed raw by the bands or strings.

As of Tuesday, they have made 375 face shields and delivered 333 of them, and have printed 237 of the strain relievers and delivered 49 of those.

They’ve spent about 300 hours working on them and spent more than $400 on printer filament plastic.

“Our plan is to give them away to anyone who wants them, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” Kelli Gowan said.

“Today I dropped some off to doctors and nurses, and they were really grateful to get them,” she said.

The mom said it “feels almost surreal” that there are medical professionals who need equipment they can’t get except through private efforts like those in which the students are involved.

Andrew has been working hard to make them, she said.

“Pretty much from the time he wakes up to the time he goes to sleep, he is printing nonstop,” she said.

Andrew said it feels good to be able to do something he enjoys and know it’s helping meet a need.

Jacob assembled one of the printers in their home and Andrew built the other.

Andrew said a 3D printer works by melting thermal plastic to 200 degrees Celsius and laying it down in patterns. As the printer is laying the plastic, it rapidly cools and hardens.

“Over time, it builds whatever shape you want,” he said.

For a face shield, the students use the printer to make a frame, then use a hole punch to attach a sheet of transparent plastic to fixtures on the frame.

Andrew said his mom got the idea from an article about a 3D printer company in the Czech Republic.

One of his robotics friends in Ohio came up with the idea for the strain relievers for the N95 masks to protect the ears of nurses and others who have to wear the masks during long shifts.

Andrew and Jacob are students of Bluegrass United, a homeschool program at Broadway Baptist Church in Lexington. They also belong to a nonprofit group, Legendary Minds, and one of its robotics teams, 8417 ’Lectric Legends, made up of homeschool students from all over Central Kentucky. There is also a team for younger students, Green Eggs and RAM.

After robotics competitions were canceled for the rest of the year because of the coronavirus, Andrew said, the students transitioned their efforts into making the face shields and strain relievers.

There are about 14 students involved, including eight who are actually making the products. The others figure out who needs them.

So far, they’ve given shields to the Lexington Police Department, Anderson County EMS, the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services, doctors’ offices, the Kroger near their home, Costco and Sam’s Club employees and others.

“My mom went to the Sam’s Club and delivered them when she was going to do her shopping … and went to get some items, and when she came back, the cashiers were already wearing them,” Andrew said.

Kelli said that with more 3D printers, she is hoping the group can “ramp up production” of the face shields and strain relievers, which they give away rather than sell.

She said the group has set up a GoFundMe page to help raise money to cover costs, and they have received some donations of materials and money.

People can order masks on their team’s website, www.lectriclegends.org, or by emailing team@lectriclegends.org.

Kelli said she would have her son add an order fund to the website and a link to the GoFundMe page.

“If people are in need, we would like to help,” Kelli Gowan said.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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