Across the country, healthcare professionals and at-risk individuals struggle with shortages of personal protective equipment — face masks, gowns and gloves, among other items — as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.

Many have stepped up with creative solutions to provide the equipment needed at hospitals, doctor’s offices and nursing homes, including two Pinellas County artists, who have taken different DIY approaches to making sought-after face masks.

Gulfport clothing designer Wendy Ohlendorf was among the early individuals hand-sewing masks for doctors, while Jonathan Barnes, St. Petersburg College’s humanities and fine arts chair, is using 3-D printing technology to create face shields.

Hand-sewn face masks

When Ohlendorf read that staff at hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities across the country were running out of face masks, she realized she was in a unique position to help.

The fashion designer, who founded Gulfport Community Arts and serves as curator for Mermaid Mercantile, not only has the skills to sew the face masks the medical field desperately needs, but she also has the supplies to make them on hand as well.

“I saw an article posted by another clothing designer (in Oklahoma) and realized I have eight bins of fabric here and five sewing machines,” she said. “I have the means and the ability and the resources to do it.”

Ohlendorf added, “If we can help, we should help. There are hospitals in need. This is our version of the war effort in the 1940s.”

In the first four days she sewed the masks, she made more than 200, and she shows no signs of slowing down.

“I’m just sewing away,” she said. “Mad sewing, that’s going to be my life for a little while.”

She’s been contacted by hospitals and medical professionals in six different states, including Pennsylvania, California and Florida.

“There’s people from everywhere ordering them and asking for them,” Ohlendorf said.

As more people throughout the United States are making face masks, though, she’s trying to focus her efforts regionally.

“Recently, I delivered some straight to doctors who live in Gulfport. Their hospitals told them to use a bandana if they have to,” she said. “That’s absurd. They’re in the (emergency room). People are coming in and they have no history on them, they know nothing about them at all, and they are using a bandana as protection.”

There are several face mask patterns available online, but Ohelndorf settled on one for a four-layer pleated mask with a filter pocket. She used two large tightly woven fabric pieces that she folds in half to create four layers. She leaves a two-inch opening in the middle of the fabric for healthcare workers to place filter material.

“When they get the mask, they can figure out what goes in there, if anything,” she said.

The masks she’s making are available at gulfportcommunityarts.com. While she can distribute them for free, there are also options offer a donation for her time and material when checking out.

The website also includes tutorials, measurements and other resources for those interested in making their own masks.

For more information, email wendy@wendyohlendorf.com.

3-D printed face shields

After learning that his friend, an emergency room doctor in Ocala, was seeking face masks and other protective gear, Barnes began using his personal 3-D printer to make face shields.

“We were texting back and forth about crazy this all is,” he said. “They don’t have face shields. They have nothing.”

He and his friend researched various designs online, including one using foam pool noodles and plexiglass.

“It was cool, but it was like a third-grade craft project strapped to the face,” Barnes said. “How reassuring would it be if your doctor walked up to you wearing that?”

He added, “There are (staff at) hospitals using scuba masks or wearing swimming goggles. This is like a freaking joke.”

Before long, they found an open source face shield design from Prusa, a Czech company that makes 3-D printers. Using the 3-D printer, Barnes creates the headpiece that sits on the forehead. Then, he makes the shield using mylar stencil film. He hand cuts the film to the size and shape required, and uses a three-hole punch to make the holes that attach it to the headpiece. The shields can be wiped down with rubbing alcohol and reused.

“Normally, I teach ceramics, printmaking and understanding art,” he said. “I'm an artist by trade and always made stuff, but this is kind of wild. This is what art people do. We creatively solve problems. How can we creatively solve a problem with materials we’ve never seen or used before? This is the way innovation happens, through trial and error.”

Happy with the first one he made, Barnes made plans to produce as many as possible, but he needed more supplies. So, he turned to SPC, which gave him permission to bring home two printers from the college’s humanities and fine arts department.

He’s fulfilled requests from healthcare professionals throughout the state — Clearwater, Orlando, St. Petersburg, Orlando — and even sent the face shields as far as Maryland and Texas.

“I’m just sending them out to as many people who need them as I can,” he said.

The face shields are available at no cost to those who need them, Barnes added, though he’s happy to take donations of supplies, including the mylar film and the filament for the 3-D printers. For those who want to make their own, he’s also available to share his knowledge.

Email jonathanbarnes101@gmail.com for more information.