Editor Daniel Clifton
Whenever a Marble Falls Area EMS ambulance crew responds to a call in the era of COVID-19, the paramedics and EMTs work from the assumption the patient or patients have the highly-contagious disease.
“When we get to the scene, we won’t be able to determine if the patient has it or not,” said Vaughn Hamilton of the Marble Falls Area EMS. In an effort to protect themselves as well as the patients, the ambulance crews wear N95 face masks as well as goggles and face shields.
The face shields are among the latest addition of personal protective equipment available to the EMS thanks to three local volunteers who made about 60 of them so far.
Carol Hamilton, Vaughn’s wife, said the idea actually originated from their daughter who is an emergency room physician in a Minnesota hospital.
“She kind of turned me onto the idea of the face shields,” Carol said. “When I first made them, Vaughn said, ‘Our medics don’t have anything like this.’”
When paramedics and EMTs tend a patient, they can’t maintain a six-foot, social-distancing standard and need protective gear to protect their faces. While they are equipped with the N95 face masks, which helps prevent them from inhaling the virus that causes COVID-19 when a patient coughs, sneezes, or even talks near them, they don’t necessarily protect the rest of their face, even their eyes.
Coupled with goggles, the face shields provide medics a higher level of protection, Vaughn explained. Now if a patient sneezes, coughs or talks in the direction of a medic, the shield helps prevent mucous and spit from landing on the crew member’s face or eyes. EMTs also place a surgical-style face mask (not a N95) on each patient.
Vaughn said those steps may sound a bit extreme with so few cases of COVID-19 confirmed, but it’s good practice, especially if and when the disease becomes much more prevalent in the Highland Lakes.
Along with offering more face protection, the face shields also help protect the ambulance crews’ N95 face masks. With the shortage of N95s, Vaughn said, the Marble Falls Area EMS crews are wearing the same mask on multiple calls. The face shields help extend the life of the N95s. After each call, the paramedics and EMTs clean the face shields and goggles.
As for making the shields, Carol said she looked at different materials and determined that the properties found in marine-grade vinyl was the best way to go. She stopped by Ed’s Classic Upholstery in Marble Falls to buy some. When owner Ed Leon inquired about what she was using it for and learned of the face shields, he donated the material to the cause.
“And he said if we needed any more to just come and get it,” Carol said. “I was so touched.”
Over the March 28-29 weekend, Carol, along with Cindy Robertson and Jeanette Tennison, handmade the 60 face shields for the Marble Falls Area EMS crews and staff.
When it comes to the shortage of N95 masks, Vaughn added that there are probably people who have some stashed in their garage or workshop for a past project, and have forgotten about them.
“If they could just check their garages and workshops to see if they have any,” Vaughn said. “There might be some (N95s) out there. If they could drop them off, we could certainly use them.”
As for Carol, she’s not done. She’s experimenting with making long-sleeve isolation gowns for the medics to wear over their uniforms for still another level of protection. She’s working on a prototype, and once she has it down, she said she’ll share it as an example if anyone else wants to help out.
Anyone interested in helping make face shields or isolation gowns can contact Carol Hamilton through the Marble Falls Area EMS at 830-693-7277. If a person finds some N95 masks and wants to donate them to the EMS, contact the office at the number above to arrange a drop off.
“Our core values are to love, serve and care,” Vaughn said. “These values are not just ours, as you can see. You see them in Ed (at Ed’s Classic Upholstery) and the community helping out. It’s incredible.”
For more on how COVID-19 is affecting the Highland Lakes, go to the DailyTrib.com coronavirus resources webpage.