As Hawaii confronts a global pandemic, Oahu dentist Dr. Eric Muraoka is spending every moment he can spare in his next door 3-D printing lab designing and printing personal protective equipment.

Since the American Dental Association and the Hawaii Dental Association recommended that dental clinics only continue to serve patients in an emergency, the Kaizen Dental Center owner is ramping up computer-aided design and manufacturing at his downtown dental lab.

“A lot of the things that most health care workers need are face shields, masks and all those other types of PPE, and they’re running out like crazy,” he said. “I just figured we’re so isolated, when Hawaii starts to see the spread of COVID-19, which inevitably will happen, our hospitals are going to get overrun when doctors and nurses get sick. I wanted to stay ahead of the curve.”

Eric Muraoka Face Shield C
Oahu dentist Eric Muraoka is using his 3-D printers to produce hundreds of face shields for health care workers in Hawaii. Courtesy: Eric Muraoka

Muraoka is focused on using his four printers to produce hundreds of clear plastic face shields that can clip on to plastic visors that are FDA-compliant.

Nursing homes, hospice workers, pharmacists, hospital workers, grocery workers and even policemen are already placing requests, which Muraoka is filling free of charge.

He produced 300 face shields Thursday and sent them on their way.

While state officials have reported just seven COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization in Hawaii to date, Hawaii hospitals are already seeking more personal protective equipment, or PPE, such as gloves and face masks.

The Queen’s Health Systems, for example, put out a public plea for donations of goggles, face shields, masks and protective gowns on Tuesday.

A spokesman for The Queen’s Health Systems told Civil Beat its Punchbowl medical center’s supply of N95 masks and gowns as of Wednesday only covered the next 12 days, but it expected more deliveries from the state stockpile soon.

Hawaii has documented 151 COVID-19 cases to date, and the number is expected to rise.

What’s most in need are professional PPE items such as surgical masks, N95 masks, safety goggles and face masks, according to the Healthcare Association of Hawaii, which coordinates with health care organizations to solicit donations.

But last week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its website to recommend a bandana or scarf as a “last resort” if face masks are not available.

West Hawaii Community Health Center nurses have received donations from businesses like Sherwin-Williams. Courtesy: Natasha Ala

Volunteers across the islands are throwing themselves into sourcing and distributing items in need — including face masks that may be used as a final resort.

“I was trying to see what I could do from the comfort of my bedroom where I’ve been for the past week, said Troy Enoka, a recent graduate who flew home from New York before the outbreak worsened.

Most vendors are limited to government orders, he’s found. Enoka and his friends Emma Whiteley and Tate Higashihara, a first-year medical student at the University of Hawaii, are looking elsewhere, contacting dentists offices, veterinary clinics, hair salons, art studios, construction companies, contractors and schools to collect masks and other equipment that are in high demand for the hospitals.

Volunteer drivers pick up donations so people can continue to abide by the Hawaii stay-at-home mandate.

Donor efforts are also circulating on social media, using the hashtag, #PPE4Hawaii.

The University of Hawaii administration authorized the donation of lab supplies for hospitals.

University of Hawaii faculty and students are sewing fabric masks with pockets that can be filled with disposable near N95 non-woven filters.

Richard Taaffe, CEO of West Hawaii Community Health Center on the Big Island, said its clinics have received masks and gloves from businesses like Sherwin-Williams.

Volunteers with the Office of Aging at Hilo Medical Center are making masks and are planning on sewing hospital gowns, too.

“They really want to do something and people are asking how they can donate,” Taaffe said. “The community’s been great.”

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