A COVID-19 Response Story- New Mexico Style

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A COVID-19 Response Story- New Mexico Style


Joel Cannon, SPS Chapter President, New Mexico State University, and Juan Treto Jr., President, Society for Engineering and Physics National, New Mexico State University

Joel Cannon, president of SPS-NMSU. Photo by Valeria Osollo. Juan Treto, president of SEPh National. Photo courtesy of Treto.Our idea started as most do—with a problem and a question. We all understood the problem at hand, so a question was formulated: How can we use our time and skills to help during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Juan Treto Jr. was sheltering in his home during New Mexico’s first stage of quarantine in early March. His classes at New Mexico State University were temporarily cancelled until an online format could be established, and it was there that he found himself asking the aforementioned question. While searching the internet for inspiration, he came across a design for a protective intubation box called the CovidBox. During further research, he discovered that these boxes were not yet being used by medical professionals in New Mexico and wondered if his organization could manufacture the boxes and other protective equipment for hospitals. With this project, he thought, we could help healthcare workers on the front lines.

Step 1: Recruit Volunteers

Treto, who is president of the Society for Engineering and Physics (SEPh) National, decided to initiate the first steps in bringing his idea to fruition by contacting some of his SEPh constituents for assistance.

Joel Cannon, speaker of the council for SEPh National and president of the Society of Physics Students at New Mexico State University (SPS-NMSU), answered Treto’s call. Treto asked Cannon if NMSU-SPS would be interested in partnering with SEPh to make the idea a reality. Cannon’s response: “Absolutely! When do we start?!”

With the partnership in place, production of a prototype CovidBox began. SEPh purchased a large acrylic sheet and, together with SPS-NMSU, cut and assembled the pieces into the first box—a small success. The group then began 3-D printing face shields, and SEPh National treasurer Elena Villasenor began sewing general-use cloth masks.

Step 2: Fundraise

Our next success came when SPS-NMSU created a GoFundMe page to finance full-scale production of the protective equipment. Cannon contacted news outlets all over New Mexico and El Paso, Texas, (just a 30-minute drive from our university) and participated in interviews. The news outlets ran the story, and our message was clearly broadcasted: “We need your help to manufacture personal protective equipment (PPE) for our hospitals and medical care workers.”

The generosity of the public was put on full display when people from all walks of life donated their hard-earned money to our cause. We raised approximately $2,000, which allowed us to purchase all the materials and tools we needed. But the most challenging part of full-scale production was yet to come.

Step 3: Full-Scale Production

An obstacle arose. We needed to come together to perform the work required, but we needed to stay separate to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is when Alejandro Solis, vice president of SEPh National, stepped up to the plate and volunteered to perform the labor. Solis, the project’s head engineer, spearheaded the production of the boxes at home. He was stretched thin for time but nonetheless poured his efforts into constructing the boxes and other PPE.

We communicated through weekly remote video meetings and kept each other updated on our progress. We worked like a well-oiled machine, each person performing their own work and reporting their progress each week. During this time, Treto also led an effort to manufacture UV-C boxes that hospitals can use to disinfect commonly used items.

Step 4: Carry On

After five months of production, we have donated 12 CovidBoxes (24 manufactured), 25 COVID keys, 7 UV-C boxes (12 manufactured), 150 face shields, 80 safety glasses, 200 pairs of disposable shoe booties, 84 ounces of isopropyl, 125 cloth masks, 2 face mask/shield hybrids, 25 three-ply earloop masks, and 400 swabs of alcohol strips, all to hospitals around New Mexico and El Paso. These numbers will increase with time and need.

This journey has been long and continues each day, but the work brings with it a sense of fulfillment. This project is teaching us many things, but if we had to choose one, it would be that the greatest thing about humans is that with effort and determination, we can adapt to our environment and take on the most difficult challenges on Earth.

: UV-C boxes for disinfection of commonly used items. Photo by Alejandro Soliz. Face masks sewn by Elena Villasenor, SEPh National treasurer. Photo by Alejandro Soliz. A CovidBox design by Dr. Hsien Young Lai, an anesthesiologist from Taiwan. Image courtesy of Hsien Young Lai.

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