In March, Jay Tan was sheltering in place and looking for a way to help during the COVID-19 outbreak.
So the UNLV assistant professor and practicing nurse turned to foam pipe insulation and overhead projector sheets.
As an Advanced Nurse Practitioner with clinical training in medical surgical, mental health, emergency room and intensive care, he knew he could help create a sustainable and cost-effective face shield that frontline workers could use.
Shields are not typically needed for day-to-day hospital work, but after receiving texts and messages on various social media sites from the nurses about the need for PPE and the anxiety the shortage had created, Tan formed a plan.
Tan was appointed as the president of the Nevada State Board of Nursing by former Gov. Brian Sandoval, where he served for three terms. Prior to that Tan served as a member of the Nevada State Board of Nursing Advisory Committee for Advanced Practice Nursing for eight years, leaving him with deep connections to the nursing community.
“How could I help them and how could I create something that’s sustainable and easy to produce?” Tan said.
In Home Depot he found foam pipe insulation that could work as a forehead buffer. His decades in education inspired the use of overhead projector sheets, which are clear and large enough to cover a face.
Eventually the foam pipe insulation was switched out for multicolored pool noodles found wherever an inflatable duck is sold.
“The problem is that a lot of stores are closed so I couldn’t just buy any material,” Tan said. “I had to check what was still available in stores and online.”
After a few iterations to make it safer, Tan has now produced hundreds of custom-made face shields for hospitals across the valley, including Sunrise, University Medical Center, Southern Hills, Centennial, Desert Springs and Comprehensive Cancer Center.
In one sitting, he and a group of volunteers are able to produce up to 400 shields while maintaining social distancing.
It takes a village
Tan is a founding member of The Bayanihan Project, a group of community organizations that have teamed up to assist communities in need during the pandemic, and he figured he might be able to use his emergency room nursing skills to find a creative solution for protective personal equipment, or PPE, shortages that are putting medical professionals and patients at risk.
Individual makers and small groups like Bayanihan are mobilizing during the crisis because of a dire lack of PPE across the country, which has waves of medical personnel asking for help. The word Bayanihan itself is a Filipino word that translates to something akin to “helping hand” in English and refers to the spirit of communal unity and cooperation to achieve a goal.
Face shields are gaining favor, said Tan, because they use materials that are easy to obtain and can be made quickly. The protective cover can effectively protect eyes from direct contact with saliva droplets that may contain the virus while medical staff is caring for isolation patients.
A shortage of N95 masks in Nevada has forced health care workers battling the coronavirus on the front lines to reuse masks throughout their shifts. Face shields have the added benefit of making other PPE, like surgical or N95 masks, that need to be used for an extended amount of time safer, said Tan.
Doris Bauer, the current president of the Philippine Nurses Association of Nevada and a member of Bayanihan, said after calling hospitals in order to find the best way to help they found that many were interested in the face shields.
“They are not readily available to hospitals,” Bauer said.
Face shields also have the added benefit of offering an alternative to nurses who wear glasses that do not comfortably fit into goggles.
“We fear for their safety,” Bauer said. “But we are focusing on how we can help and are staying positive.”
Bauer hosts a weekly podcast streamed through PHLV radio, a Filipino-American online radio station based in Las Vegas, that is now working to inform the public about coronavirus from where to seek mental healthcare to parenting tips from pediatricians.
“A lot of people still don’t understand the social distancing guidelines or the importance of wearing a face mask when out in public,” Bauer said. “So our focus is also focused on educating.”
Small businesses in Southern Nevada are stepping up, adjusting their operations to help healthcare workers. Filipino-owned businesses, including Island Pacific Supermarket, Seafood City, Texas Meltz, and Teriyaki Madness, have partnered with Bayanihan to feed healthcare workers and provide goods for the groups food bank, said Bauer. They estimate that Bayanihan’s food bank has served about 300 families so far.
As of Thursday, there have been 4,208 confirmed/reported cases of COVID-19 in the state, including 195 deaths. One major issue that has concerned Tan is recent data from the Southern Nevada Health District indicating that African-Americans and Asians are hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.
The Asian population in Southern Nevada is about 10.5 percent, but Asians have accounted for 16 percent of reported COVID-19 deaths in Southern Nevada. They also make up about nine percent of hospitalizations in Southern Nevada.
“It makes me wonder why there is a disproportionate mortality and morbidity in the Black and Asian community,” Tan said.
It’s unclear whether the high percentage of Asian COVID-19 cases are related to non-testing and prioritization of testing in Nevada or if the community is more susceptible to the virus.
While Asian Americans make up about 10.5 percent of the population in Nevada, they make up about 19 percent of Registered Nurses, according to National nursing survey data from 2017 — a large number of whom are from the Philippines — giving the group an outsized presence compared to their population. The health district has said it is prioritizing its COVID-19 tests for frontline groups such as healthcare workers and first responders.
Tan said the demographic disparity of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths has motivated him to make face masks and face shields available to the greater Filipino community by providing them from his clinic, which specializes in mental health and psychiatry.
“In Nevada, especially in Las Vegas, the number one Asian minority group is Filipino. There’s a reason why there is Tagalog on the ballot,” Tan said.
Tan said the disparity might also be related to the fact that many Filipino families live in multigenerational homes, leaving more room for illness to spread to older parents or grandparents. Tan himself lives with elderly parents who volunteer with Bayanihan by sewing cloth masks for distribution.
Next, Bayanihan will move their efforts to assisting nursing homes and long-term care facilities, where they are already receiving requests for face shields. Compared to major hospitals, nursing homes have weaker supply chains for medical resources, but the practitioners there are in the front line in direct contact with the patients
“Community assistance is very important,” Bauer said. “We are one in the same community. It takes a village.”