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Inland Journal, Apr. 9, 2020: Coronavirus Face Shields, Dentists, Hospital Woes, Spring Planting

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Courtesy of Gizmo
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Today on Inland Journal, people and companies are busy making personal protective equipment for people who are exposed to the coronavirus. We talk with the director of one Coeur d’Alene company.

We talk with a hospital CEO in Omak about the struggles there and what his facility is doing to stay afloat.  A Spokane dentist tells us how practices have changed recently

We’ll meet Washington’s coronavirus czar and learn how the virus is affecting spring planting for farmers in central Washington.

Those stories and more on Inland Journal, after the news.

Today on Inland Journal, another program about living life in a world controlled by our reactions to the coronavirus.

In Coeur d’Alene, the people who operate Gizmo call their enterprise a maker space. And what they’ve been making recently are products needed by health care workers.

"We’re making masks and face shields. And the other is we’re doing kits for kids who don’t have internet and don’t have access to WiFi," said Barb Mueller, the co-owner with her husband Marty, of Gizmo.

“We are a public maker space, not for profit. We have 11,000 square feet of incredible tools, but the really good thing about a maker space is not the tools, it’s the people. So you have all these ideas that get to come together and there are people all around who can tame those ideas, which are sometimes eccentric and wild, and make something pretty amazing," she said.

Gizmo sponsors classes and summer camps and works with teachers to develop projects for students to work on.

In this case, they’ve focused on the coronavirus pandemic. They’re working with health care providers in the Coeur d’Alene area and with the Idaho STEM Action Network to create personal protective equipment.

“What we have at Gizmo is a whole bunch of people who have a lot of experience doing engineering and also being very creative in thought. And so we got approached pretty much early on to do some stuff for hospice and getting involved in the hospital and also with local physicians. We came up with some designs and started to produce them. They’re getting ok’ed and we’re in production," Mueller said.

They decided to create clear face shields.

“There’s a shortage of materials so 3-D printing them takes too long and also you were having trouble getting the PETG for the 3-D printers. It’s coming back. You can get some now, but you couldn’t then. How can we take something that’s taking two hours to print and make it be something that takes 10 minutes to cut?" she said. "So we started to fool around with different materials and came up with some foam and started to cut it on the laser cutter and it was quick, really quick. So now we could produce them in a rapid way, rather than waiting for each 3-D printer to finish its print.”

Gizmo made about 200 of the face shields and delivered them to providers for testing last week.

“Hospice is a really good example. They took them last week. They let their staff try them on and decide how they wanted the bands. What did they feel like? We got feedback from them. And then we were able to turn around and get it back to them. Having our people, the health providers, be safe, is one of our goals. We really believe that we should be doing our part," Mueller said. "Besides, I have to say, when I watch my staff, they feel much better because they are able to contribute and feel purposeful because, otherwise, it feels pretty helpless.”

Do you have others who ask whether you can make some for them too?

“Yeah, we’re getting that and we’re trying to decide how to go forward with it. What’s the best way to be able to produce?" she said.

Mueller’s other project is Gizmo to Go, creating projects for kids in homes that don’t have access to technology.

“We know that that population is starting to get computers. There are people trying to get them computers. But, also, when they’re in their house, they’re not necessarily tech savvy, nor are their parents," she said. "So what we’re doing is producing kits that will have a STEM project, an art project, a puzzle, a robot to build that’s being laser cut here, and then a journal for them to keep memories of what’s going on. There are prompts that will allow them to think about the process of being in the middle of this. Make a journal around it, so when they get older, they’ll be able to say this is what I remember and this is how I felt.”

Barb Mueller is co-owner, with her husband Marty, of Gizmo Maker Space in Coeur d’Alene. She has one final thought about coronavirus.

“Being able to do something at this time is so important. I think everybody would like to have a way to be able to do it. And they can. There are so many needs right now in the community. The Salvation Army just put out a call. They need thousands of masks for the people that are living in their facilities, the people that they service. Those are the kinds of things that everybody can do and contribute to what’s going on in our community.”

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Dentists are people who could use those face shields. Their life has also changed, in terms of the number and type of patients they see. This week we talked with Dr. Elizabeth Warder, a dentist at CHAS Health in Spokane.

“We have scrubbed our schedules and asked people who are simply coming in for routine care to delay that care and keep appointments available for those who really need it. Like severe pain, minor swelling, fracture of a tooth, if it’s painful. Those particular situations have not been forbidden by the governor to engage in care.

"What’s really important is, if they have a dental problem, if they have to is to stay out of the emergency room and seek care from their dentist or, if they don’t have a dentist, they could certainly use Dentist Link as a tool to try and establish care with someone. Or, if it’s just a minor problem, something that can wait a month or two, we would really just people to stay home and not seek care under those circumstances," Warder said.

What kinds of precautions are you and your colleagues taking to protect yourselves?

“We’re using N-95 masks. That’s a mask that will filter out the virus and it’s covered by another mask to try and help its lifespan extend. And then also a face shield, in addition to hair cover, eye protection and a full-length gown and gloves," she said.

Is it difficult to work with all that equipment on your face?

“Yeah, it takes some getting used to," she said.

So, for folks who are insisting that, ‘Doc, I’m in terrible pain,’ what’s your best advice for them?

“An antibiotic may be appropriate. It depends on the level of pain too. If it’s something that can be medicated and not interfere with their ability to function in life, then they should probably not come in to the dentist. But if it’s really severe pain and it makes the patient unable to eat, unable to sleep, something will have to be done for that patient," Warder said.

If you have a dental issue you consider severe, you can visit Dentist Link. That’s a website operated by the Arcora Foundation and Delta Dental that helps to match patients with dentists who are accepting patients right now. Find it at dentist link dot org. You can also access it through the Smile Spokane website.

Warder says the goal, again, is to keep people with dental issues out of hospital emergency rooms.

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Just as dentists have cut back on elective and non-emergency surgeries, so have hospitals. And that’s putting a pinch on revenues. In the Okanogan Valley, Mid-Valley Hospital is hurting because it’s had to postpone non-emergency surgeries. Alan Fisher is the CEO of Mid-Valley Hospital in Omak.

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A few weeks ago, when the Puget Sound area was going through what appears to be the worst of the pandemic, Washington Governor Jay Inslee brought in someone to be the Covid czar. Dr. Raquel Bono is a retired vice admiral who agreed to move from the right coast to the left coast to oversee the state’s response to the virus. Correpondent Tom Banse has this profile.

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The coronavirus isn’t affecting just the health care system. Businesses that have had to close or idle many of their operations are moving fast to apply for government aid under the CARES Act. And now it’s planting season for farmers, who have to worry about who will be buying what they grow and whether they might have to adjust. Correspondent Anna King has more.

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Next week on Inland Journal, those who work in the domestic violence field worry that all this togetherness we’re experiencing cooped up at home is not always a good thing.

Annie Murphey: “If you’re living in close proximity with someone and it’s unsafe, it’s going to be really hard in this environment to get in a space, so to speak, that you can be in a place where you can reach out.”

We’ll look at a new public awareness campaign by advocates who work with domestic violence survivors. Also, a look at how the U-W medical school has adapted its curriculum to overcome the coronavirus restrictions. That’s next week on Inland Journal, which you hear every Thursday on the radio. Or listen anytime to the podcast. Find it at the Spokane Public Radio website, Google Play, Apple podcasts and NPR One.