Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Tue, Oct. 27

Coconino Community College staff print 3D masks to send to Tuba City doctors

Michael Mercia, director of Institutional Research and Jeff Jones, dean of Career and Technical Education, at Coconino Community College demonstrate how 3D mask printing is accomplished. (Submitted photo)

Michael Mercia, director of Institutional Research and Jeff Jones, dean of Career and Technical Education, at Coconino Community College demonstrate how 3D mask printing is accomplished. (Submitted photo)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — What do you do when Coconino Community College’s campus is closed because of a global pandemic and you have 3D printers lying around?

If you’re Michael Mercia, director of Institutional Research, and Jeff Jones, dean of Career and Technical Education, you get to work printing high-efficiency filtration masks that can be fitted to a healthcare provider’s face and sanitized between uses.

Mercia got the idea from The Montana Mask, https://www.makethemasks.com/, which provides a step-by-step process for those with 3D printers to make the masks, what they are and how to use them.

It quickly caught on in Montana.

“Once this became public and papers started to write about it, everybody in the community who have access to a 3D printer, which is a lot of the universities, schools, colleges and high schools, they all started printing these masks, as well,” Mercia said.

Once Mercia and Jones got permission from the leadership at CCC, who were supportive of the idea, the two got to work printing the masks.

The printers and the materials used to print the masks were purchased through a grant from the National Science Foundation and were originally used for an innovation lab — iLab. Engineering and computer information students used the printers for student projects and the college also used them in summer workshops with kids.

It takes four hours to print one mask, Mercia said. And according to The Montana Mask website, doctors are using them.

“We’ve shared a couple of the masks we’ve made with some physicians and they were excited about using them,” Mercia said. “The real benefit to them is you can take surgical masks that don’t fit your face very well, and there’s a lot of concern around those, and you can cut the material out and use this for filtration in these plastic masks.”

Mercia said that once a doctor or physician has custom fitted the mask to their face, they can replace the filter material as often as they need to.

“So they last indefinitely whereas other masks can only be worn for a short period of time and then thrown away,” Mercia said. “They really expand the usage.”

Because they take so long to print, Mercia said a batch that could be sent out would include about 10 masks, which were ready to send by the end of last week.

Larry Hendricks, senior manager for Public Relations and Marketing at CCC, said the president of the college, Colleen Smith, talked to Coconino County Department of Health and Human Services.

“After talking with them, she decided we would offer our first batch to Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation,” Hendricks said.

Mercia said the cost to make the masks is less than $5. And while most of the material they used was purchased with the National Science Foundation grant, Jones has expended some of his own money to purchase materials. In terms of cost, Mercia said, it is not that prohibitive.

“The members of the college are just willing to chip in and do this and we care a lot about Tuba City and the Navajo Nation,” Mercia said. “About a quarter of our students at CCC are Native. We’re aware of what is going on on the Nation and how challenging it is there.”

But more importantly, Mercia said he hopes as the word get out and the link to The Montana Mask gets shared, that other colleges, high schools and anyone else who has a 3D printer will start making masks as well.

“The more doctors who don’t get sick, the more people they can continue to treat,” Mercia said. “Even though, (last week) we were able to send 10, that’s 10 more health practitioners that are kept safe, who can help hundreds of people.”

Jones and Mercia intend to keep on making the masks and determining areas of highest need within the region.

The Montana Mask website is available at https://www.makethemasks.com/.

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