U of T Med Students Make Hundreds of Masks for Hospital Training

Mar 31, 2020
Gabrielle Giroday

Initiative Will Help in Fight Against COVID-19, and Cut Waste 

Calandra LiUniversity of Toronto medical students are making hundreds of masks to deliver to Toronto-area hospitals, to help with training health care providers in use of personal protective equipment.

Calandra Li, a first-year student in University of Toronto’s MD program, is working with more than 25 medical students on the initiative, that has already provided about 500 masks to three hospitals for training purposes.

“We’re doing this because there is a need with the growing cases in our community. Personal protective equipment and other resources are becoming sparse, and we know that through training, masks are used and wasted and thrown away so this seems like a unique and creative way to help our community, and mitigate that loss a bit,” says Li.

Li came up with the idea after hearing about a similar initiative taking place at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

She said the group of volunteers from University of Toronto is aiming to manufacture about 2,500 masks by the end of April.

Ten Toronto-area hospitals have told Li and her team that they would like the masks to give to their employees for training, and three of those hospitals have already received deliveries from the students.

“These masks aren’t meant to replace real N-95 masks in the hospital, but rather, they mimic a real mask so that health care professionals can practice how to put them on and take them off safely,” says Li, who is the incoming president of the Medical Society for the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine.

She says the initiative was a way for medical students to help while they are doing online learning at home.

At this point, all in-hospital learning for pre-licensure students has been suspended in light of COVID-19.

“I know that every medical student who is at home wants to be mobilized during this difficult time. I know that I feel that way,” says Li.

“We want to help the hospital communities that have taught us so much already, and provide them with any support that we can to lessen their burden.” There are six team leads for the project who are spread out across the city. To minimize person-to-person contact, the team lead is the sole person who picks up masks from the students manufacturing them and then drops them off at the hospital.

Students have been using their own funds to support the initiative so far, and are seeking financial support from other sources, like grants, for future production.

“We are using simple shop towels and braided elastics, as well as staples,” says Li. The biggest production challenge has been finding a source of braided elastics, which are in short supply, says Li.

“That’s a bit of a limiting factor but we’re trying our best with what we have,” says Li. Li says the project has been designed to have a limited number of volunteers producing masks, for safety reasons and to reduce the risk of spread.

“This is a student-led initiative, and it’s student volunteers and student leaders who are involved. We screened all of our volunteers to ensure that they haven’t travelled in the last 14 days, and they are not currently self-isolating or living with anyone who is self-isolating due to a positive contact or positive case,” she says.

“We also are ensuring that each volunteer is not volunteering in a front-line position, like as a hospital screener or volunteer.”

That also means working with the relevant health authorities, she says.

“All of our leads who are delivering masks to hospital sites have coordinated with occupational safety and health at each hospital site,” she says.


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