George Hacks Responds to COVID-19 Needs

During the worldwide pandemic known as COVID-19, many organizations across the GW campus have assumed a role to help the local DC community combat the crisis. Several interdisciplinary groups have teamed up with first responders to ideate innovative solutions ranging from 3D printing PPE to designing informative websites. Surpassing the ambition of these initiatives is the ability for project teams to collaboratively create these impactful designs with limited in-person contact. Some of these teams, in fact, have never met in person. 

Several GW students and faculty have been actively working on fabricating 3D printed masks and face shields for medical personnel. This project emerged as a response to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that numerous health care facilities across the nation have been facing. As more people test positive in recent months, the demand for PPE has significantly increased across hospitals across the world. When the GW Hospital experienced such a shortage, members from the GW School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS), GW Hospital, GW Innovation Center (GWIC), George Hacks, and others pooled resources to work on addressing the need. Leading the 3D printing farm is Mr. Huckenpahler, a digital lab professor from the GW Corcoran School of Art and Design, who along with his team was able to  “produce 200 face shields for GW Hospital staff in just under a week” according to an article by GW Today. This monumental task was achieved by twelve 3D printers provided by the GW Corcoran School of the Arts & Design along with an additional six owned by George Hacks and GWIC.  

The same article mentions two other projects that students and faculty are working on to assist first responders. One of these projects is the production of N95 comparable respirators with “removable and replaceable units, some of which can be sanitized and reused unlike most N95 respirators.” This design was approved by the hospital’s own quality tests and is now being standardized, scaled to different sizes, and manufactured in bulk.

Another team of students and faculty led by David Lee and Carl Wick, former SEAS professors, is developing a touch-less hospital screening system. Their kiosk design provides a foot-pedal answering system for pre-screening questionnaires and allows one’s temperature to be measured from a distance, appropriately sending staff to the correct waiting areas. Doing so facilitates separation between people with and without fevers in order to vet those who are most likely to test positive for COVID-19.

Team members on this project include George Hacks Co-Founders, Konstantin Mitic and Caitlyn Pratt; former Technical Director, Matt Taylor; and George Hacks Director Karen Rius. With most of the GW campus closed down to the public, Matt transported the project to his apartment located only a few blocks from the GW Hospital. There he created a full workshop in his lounge, allowing him to seamlessly continue contributing to the kiosk project. His proximity to the hospital also provided Matt the convenience to test the kiosk on volunteers in person. Hence, he was able to observe and fix calibration errors in the thermometer before finalizing the systems. 

Aside from the shortage of PPE and lack of contact-free hospital screening methods, another issue that has drastically impacted the work environment of all medical professionals is the lack of a single compilation of latest COVID-19 medical and public health information relevant to their roles as first responders. In response to this need, Jordan Selzer of the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences Lance Hoffman, a GW computer science professor, recruited a group of SEAS and George Hacks students to design a website named Disaster Consult. According to another GW Today article, this website aims to “give care providers quick, digestible information about best practices in the face of various emergencies,” which is especially valuable for small medical facilities in rural areas at risk of being flooded with numerous patients in a short time. As these types of hospitals typically lack a trauma center, staff with specialized disaster training, and a protocol for dealing with large numbers of patients,  it is imperative they have access to reliable updates on the evolving pandemic without having to digest lengthy academic papers.

After the website design had been finalized, more than 50 third and fourth year medical student volunteers, who were unable to conduct their usual hospital rounds due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic, redirected their time towards compiling the content for the website. The tremendous assistance provided by these students allowed the website to be fully functional in under a month. Of course, the website is constantly undergoing development and improvement. Possible translation to a mobile application is expected.

George Hacks is proud to continue supporting the GW community in its endeavors to combat COVID-19. To get involved in some of these initiatives, visit the ‘Projects’ page of our website, or feel free to contact us with questions.

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