Rachel Smith has been working from her Los Angeles home for two weeks. By Sunday night, the extremely plugged-in 33-year old user-experience designer couldn’t take just absorbing the news anymore.
She decided to build a network of people to start filling in the gaps that coronavirus has exposed in the supply and information chain. The most pressing: getting masks and gloves to health care workers who desperately need it. She bought a domain name, built a website and created a Slack group.
“I do a lot of design around human behavior and just sitting at home and working my day job is fine, but I had to do something more,” Smith said.
“I’m sure there’s networks of people who are feeling that they can’t do anything, that feel powerless and helpless right now,” Smith said. “I thought, ‘Okay, how can I channel this into something more productive?’ because I know there’s brilliant minds out there who also want to help.”
Like other grass-roots networks and movements that have popped up in the past week, Smith’s Design to Combat covid-19 grew quickly.
By Thursday, she had over 300 volunteers from tech, creative, design and other industries signed up. The mission? To head off problems caused by the pandemic before they spiral out of control and exhaust the system. In addition to getting supplies to hospitals, including ventilators, they want to help small businesses and displaced workers, and fill in gaps government and businesses can’t fill.
But the most pressing issue of the moment is getting personal protective equipment — PPE — like masks and gloves to health care workers.
On Thursday night, Smith got up a second website, Masks for Docs, to connect anyone with spare supplies to hospitals or health care workers, or with technology to create viable alternatives via 3-D printing and other methods.
In the past week, the crescendo of medical workers have raised the alarm about a PPE shortage, particularly N95 masks. Part of the shortage is due to increased worldwide demand amid a supply chain disruption sparked by covid-19 in key manufacturing countries like China and South Korea. Then there’s the hoarding from people who succumbed to panic buying.
In the meantime, doctors and nurses, lab technicians, security, administrative and cleaning staff are reusing masks that are meant to be disposable, putting themselves and others at risk. Or they are left having to use alternatives — like napkins or office supplies — to make their own masks.
Smith partnered with tech founder Chad Loder to scramble to get ahead of the curve, scavenging PPE from nail salons, dentists, hair salons, painters, art schools, Hollywood prop houses and private citizens to redistribute to medical centers.
By Friday, they were able to deliver a box of N95 respirator masks to the nurses at Torrance Memorial Hunt Cancer Center in Torrance, Calif.
“I believe it’s going to make a huge impact,” Smith said about Masks for Docs. “I don’t think a lot of people even realize this is a problem. So when it becomes a problem, they’re going to be there ready to go for people to be able to redistribute and be available for folks.”