Coronavirus Florida: Locals roll up sleeves to create DIY medical supplies

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

After scrolling through social media and watching Gainesville residents create support groups for the community as the number of local, positive COVID-19 cases ticked higher and higher, Oliver James saw his fellow artist friends using their unique skills to help tackle the pandemic.

“I saw these phenomenal articles about 3D printing for medical work in Italy, and I thought ‘Wow, I’ve 3D printed in Gainesville before,” the 27-year-old sculptor said.

From there, he made an impromptu Facebook group to see if he could find 3D printers in the area, and asked for help from existing online Gainesville groups.

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In one weekend, what began as two small Facebook pages has ballooned into dedicated groups of residents putting their heads together to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis as best they can.

Since Friday, a hodgepodge of community members — like James — have researched, sewn and created essential materials should medical workers or those most at risk of contracting the disease come in short supply.

The two groups, together called Gainesville Face Mask Crafters and Makers Against COVID-19, are banding together to make 3D printed respiratory masks and sewn fabric masks.

At least 34 people have volunteered to make roughly 1,400 fabric masks since the effort launched Friday. The group includes quilters, University of Florida professors, former city officials and doctors.

“I am just an individual who decided to pull out my sewing machine,” said Shanti Vani, a 69-year-old health care worker. So far, Vani said she’s made about six or eight masks from scraps of fabric, having donated a few to a family whose children have asthma.

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The group’s members, calling themselves the Gainesville Face Mask Crafters for Covid-19 Support, say they understand cloth masks are nowhere near as effective as the hospital-issued variety, but they are better at filtering viruses than no cover at all.

Meanwhile, James’ team has been busy building prototypes for a respiratory mask for medical workers on the front lines.

For the past two days, around 10 nurses, artists, researchers and medical professionals have built three prototypes of respiratory masks with the hope of creating a safety net of masks should local hospitals’ supply grow thin.

Using a material known as antibacterial plastic filament, the group has created a prototype they hope will pass test trials and get the green light from medical officials, in case N-95 supply dwindles to a critical need. The mask, unlike typical N-95 models, is also reusable.

The cost to make the mask is unknown this early in the prototyping stage, though the group’s other invention, a shield mask that covers the eyes and mouth, is estimated to cost $1.70 per mask.

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Katie Tan, a school nurse, said the group ultimately hopes that medical workers won’t have to rely on their 3D printed supply, but the key is to be prepared in case of a massive swell of positive tests.

“We’re hoping that we’ll never need them,” she said.

Tan and James say they’re in need of more 3D printers and laser cutters, and those who’d like to help can sign up at

To join, sew or request a cloth cover mask, email:

This story originally published to, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the USA TODAY Network - Florida.