In response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis, the University of Maine System has not only shut its doors for the remainder of the spring semester, but has also donated a number of masks, gloves and gowns, or personal protective equipment (PPE), in an effort to reduce shortages of essential medical supplies.
In addition to the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System has joined the efforts. In late March, both systems signed a memorandum of understanding with the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). As written in the document, the purpose of the memorandum was to “identify the roles and responsibilities of each party as they relate to natural or human-created disasters in the instances that MEMA requires assistance with respect to facilities, supplies, services, and personnel.”
UMaine’s Nursing School adjusted its curriculum after hearing that classes for the remainder of the semester would occur remotely. Nursing students were provided with laboratory kits to practice skills at home.
“[However, the faculty of the Nursing School] made a conscious decision to withhold personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gowns, gloves from the kits because of the known global PPE shortages,” Kelley Strout, an assistant professor in the nursing school, shared. “We donated all of the [personal protective equipment] in our laboratory supply to our local health care community, which included 2,000 exam gloves, 100 isolation gowns, 50 vinyl isolation gowns, 150 face shields, 250 basic face masks and 50 duckbill surgical masks.”
A number of other departments at UMaine are doing their part in the crisis, as well. Jacquelyn Gill, a professor of paleoecology and plant ecology, collected hundreds of gloves and masks from 12 different departments on campus. These masks and gloves will be provided to healthcare professionals throughout the state.
The University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy stated in a recent article in the Bangor Daily News that not only can the higher learning institutions in Maine provide masks, gloves and gowns to healthcare professionals, but that they can also make university buildings available for quarantining patients or for use as overflow hospital rooms. In addition, they can research how to manufacture materials like hand sanitizer and face masks that are in scarce supply worldwide.
Face shields provide medical professionals with another layer of protective equipment when worn over face masks. Professor Habib Dagher, the executive director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at UMaine, started manufacturing face shields last week. The prototypes for the face shields were designed using the center’s 3D printer, which earned international recognition last fall.
The Advanced Structures and Composites Center plans to use a die punching machine to make headbands for the face shields, which can be completed in seconds.
“We’re hoping we can do hundreds a day,” Dagher told the Bangor Daily News.
Another laboratory on UMaine’s Orono campus made and donated 25 gallons of hand sanitizer to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. Meanwhile, the University of Maine at Farmington provided 32 rolls of toilet paper to the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, and prior to signing the MEMA agreement, Eastern Maine Community College donated 150 masks and gowns to the Bangor Fire Department.
These are just a few examples of the efforts that higher education institutions in Maine have made to fight the pandemic.
“Many of the nurses on the front lines are our alums, and all of the nurses on the front lines are part of a larger family of nursing professionals. Our physicians are our colleagues. We desperately want them protected as they care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Strout said.