As Maine officials prepare for an expected wave of COVID-19 cases to spread throughout the state, Maine’s public universities and community colleges are ready to supply needed materials, research and even campus buildings to aid in the effort.
Both the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System last week signed a memorandum of understanding with the Maine Emergency Management Agency, which has been planning with the educational institutions how to shift university and college resources to hospitals and communities as needs arise.
Maine’s higher learning institutions have masks, gloves and gowns it can give to healthcare providers that are facing shortages. They also can make university buildings available for quarantining patients or for use as overflow hospital rooms, and can research how to manufacture materials like hand sanitizer and face masks that are in scarce supply worldwide, said University of Maine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy.
“We stand ready to be of assistance to the state as it tackles this very serious crisis,” Malloy said. “We have buildings, we have trucks, we have equipment, we have cleaning materials and we have toilet paper. We have all kinds of abilities to respond to state needs.”
Both educational systems already have provided personal protective equipment, like masks and gloves to hospitals across the state, either directly or through MEMA.
Through the University of Southern Maine, 5,500 personal protective equipment items — including hundreds of N95 masks — have been made available to MEMA to distribute to frontline responders. Through a drive organized by UMaine Professor Jacquelyn Gill, hundreds of masks and gloves collected from 12 different departments on the Orono campus will be funneled to the state’s hospitals.
“Right now we’re not in a worst case scenario, except with respect to the protective gear and there we’ve responded and continue to respond,” Malloy said. “When anything else is needed, we’ll examine our stocks and materials for that purpose.”
Eastern Maine Community College donated 150 gowns and 150 masks to the Bangor Fire Department before the agreement with MEMA was signed.
Since then, all donations have been funneled through to the state’s eight public health centers.
Kennebec Valley Community College recently donated takeout food containers to the local public health center in Augusta, which then gave them to local food banks that were running out.
In addition to personal protective equipment, the University of Maine at Farmington donated 320 rolls of much-needed toilet paper to the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta.
Research labs at the university and community college level also are helping out.
A UMaine lab made hand sanitizer, 25 gallons of which was donated Thursday to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston at the hospital’s request, said Chip Gavin, chief general services officer for the university system. The university is looking at making more if hand sanitizer continues to be in short supply, he said.
The starfish-shaped ventilator manifold, also called a splitter, can allow up to four patients to use one machine. Tests conducted by respiratory therapists at Maine Medical Center in Portland show that the device works, according to Abbott.
Abbott is hoping someone in Maine who has access to a 3D printer that is best suited to manufacture the device will see the video and then contact him.
Meanwhile, the Advanced Structures and Composites Lab at UMaine led by Habib Dagher will start manufacturing face shields on Saturday.
Face shields are another layer of protective equipment that medical professionals wear over face masks. The prototypes were made on a 3D printer, but Dagher’s lab plans to use a die punching machine to make headbands for face shields in seconds.
“We’re hoping we can do hundreds a day,” Dagher said. “It all depends on the demand of the hospitals around us.”
In Cumberland County, where the CDC has declared community spread of COVID-19, the University of Southern Maine has received a shelter request, but details of that request have not been solidified, Malloy said. With 95 percent of residential students sent home, many university buildings can be made available for other uses.
“We have dormitories which can be quarantine centers, if that was necessary. They can be hospital rooms in some cases if that’s what’s needed,” Malloy said. “We have other buildings that can be used to house the homeless for periods of time.”
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