Masks for Hope – Kent State Students Take Steps to Help Save Lives
“We have to start knitting masks. My director of health just emailed the entire staff.”
For Irvin Cardenas, a robotics researcher and computer science Ph.D. student in the College of Arts and Sciences at Kent State University, these were the worst words he had ever heard from a close friend working at one of Cleveland’s top hospitals.
With reported coronavirus (COVID-19) cases growing every day in Ohio, and the expected surge in the next few weeks, the drastic shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent exposure is a huge concern for the thousands of healthcare and first responder professionals in Ohio.
Students Take Action
Volunteers across Northeast Ohio are taking action by knitting masks at home and from material that may not provide enough protection for healthcare workers on the front lines.
Cardenas and his fellow students in the Department of Computer Science, the Fashion School and the College of Business Administration at Kent State decided to act immediately and reached out to friends and colleagues in their network to address the need for affordable equipment and fundraising as quickly as possible. They took the bold step of directly contacting international manufacturers in order to purchase medical masks to be delivered to area doctors and nurses.
On March 25, they set up a GoFundMe page that has already raised more than $3,100 on the site, and additional donations were submitted to Cardenas directly. They placed their first order for 3,000 certified medical masks, which arrived on March 31 and are being delivered to Summa Health, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals on April 1.
According to their GoFundMe page, all proceeds will go directly to the purchase and delivery of medical supplies (PPE), such as medical masks, N95 masks, face shields and other supplies.
“The necessary supplies to prevent exposure are limited, hard to procure and an increasing global demand has led to price volatility – leaving healthcare facilities with difficulties in getting the necessary supplies,” Cardenas said. “Additional bureaucracy and policies also play a role in slowing the process of procuring these supplies. We have to take things into our hands. The individuals fighting on the front lines might be your family members, your friends or someone you have never met, but they are risking their lives to protect our community. And now, they need us the most.”
About Masks for Hope
The Masks for Hope program hopes to raise $100,000 to procure at least 35,000 N95 and KN95 masks to support those most affected by COVID-19. With the high demand for these masks, many unlicensed factories have begun producing them at lower prices, without Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or Conformitè Europëenne (CE) certification, but this does not guarantee the quality of the masks.
“The suppliers we are working with have provided the adequate certification, licenses and a virtual tour of their factories,” Cardenas said.
Joining Cardenas in these efforts are Yuqiao Xu, a data scientist and alumna of Kent State, and Michelle S. Park Kołacz and Siera Santos Terry, both master’s students at Kent State’s Fashion Industry Studies program.
Xu said she saw how bad COVID-19 affected China and how their families survived. Also, as a person who has been living in Cleveland for more than eight years, she considers Cleveland to be her second hometown. She is acting as a translator in this operation by communicating with suppliers to ensure that the proper certifications and qualifications are being met.
Park Kołacz is personally affected as well as her family members and friends are healthcare professionals working on the front lines of this pandemic. She has been using her connections with those in the medical field to ensure that they get the needed supplies into the right hands.
Cardenas said that close friends and family members residing in mainland China, who directly know the factory owners, are assisting them.
“This is the main reason why we are able to view the factories and ensure the quality,” Cardenas said. “I work with robotics (mechanical parts, hardware) manufacturers across China, and they have shared their export and import logistics to make sure of the adequate delivery of the supplies.”
For the Masks for Hope team, this is more than just donating masks to healthcare workers.
“Our goal is to coordinate the efforts of our community and cities to fight against the coronavirus,” Cardenas said. “Rather than standing as individuals, we must join forces. Standing stronger together.”