If Plato was correct when he said that necessity is the mother of invention, then the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic fits that statement extremely well.
From ventilators to hospital gowns to face masks, companies across the country have altered the focus of their businesses to help fill the critical need for additional medical equipment across Canada and beyond. So too have a number of B.C. inventors – at least one as young as 14 years old.
In the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, a group of three have formed “Project Draw Breath” to use 3D printers to create ventilator masks. A ventilator is a machine which pumps air into a person’s lungs to assist breathing.
That group, which first included 14-year-old Alex Marsh and Dr. Richard Walton, has since expanded to 10 people helping create the special masks. As they apply to health officials for testing, the group has also created easy-to-construct plastic face shields.
West Kootenay octogenarian, Peter Brockley, has teamed up with his doctor son with the goal of developing a prototype for a low-cost version of the respiratory machine.
“They’re basically an air pump,” Dr. Graham Brockley told Black Press Media. “A simple one is not theoretically hard to build, but they’re in short supply.”
In Williams Lake, a sewing group has launched a Cariboo Sew Strong campaign on social media, sharing patterns and advice on how to make a variety of face masks for first responders.
“I know that these masks will not replace [N95 masks], but I’m just trying to do what I can,” said Comox Valley resident Lauren Lan.
However, Health Canada has urged health-care workers to use caution when considering homemade masks.
Federal government admits it didn’t have enough protective gear
Since the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization in early March, Canadian officials have been working to obtain surgical masks and other medical equipment for health-care workers on the frontlines.
“It is an extremely competitive space right now for personal protective equipment. We are pulling out all of the stops … trying to procure equipment in a global situation where equipment is extremely tight,” Health Minister Patty Hadju said during a news conference on Wednesday (April 1).
Hadju acknowledged that the race to gather equipment is due to not having enough protective equipment in its emergency stockpile.
Three large-scale medical companies – Thornhill Medical, Medicom and Spartan Biomedics – have signed agreements with the federal government to provide test kits, N95 masks and ventilators.
– with files from John Boivin, Robert Barron and Monica Lamb-Yorski