Kevin lives on the west side of Ann Arbor and has spent the last month organizing a large collective of local volunteers who produce and distribute face shields to healthcare workers. The face shields are a combination of 3D printed headbands (made by volunteers on home printers) and clear plastic sheeting (e.g. transparencies, other sourced materials). The project is a significant effort and has produced thousands of protective shields for healthcare workers. Kevin and I talked mostly about how his background as a nurse informed the project, what he is observing and experiencing in the midst of it. You can learn more about the project at operationfaceshield.org and protect-mi.org
This is part of a series of interviews with Ann Arbor residents, talking about personal experiences adjusting to (and adapting during) the COVID-19 crisis. Interviewed April 10, 2020
I’m talking to Kevin— hi, Kevin!
So I’m asking everybody just about the same question – the same exact question – which is: how has your lifestyle changed, what kinds of adjustments have you made since the COVID 19 pandemic?
Well, everything’s changed. My career originally was in camera work – that’s what I was kind of making my money doing – and carpentry. The last shoot I did, strangely enough, was at a huge track and field event in Ohio so that was… I was like, “wow this is a huge track” and it was kind of right at, right when they were starting to talk about it spreading into the country. I was like looking at all these schools (it was a big 10 track meet) and all these people came in from all over the Midwest and actually, you know… so I was like “wow this is probably the last one of these that’s gonna happen for awhile.”
Sure enough, right after that all the film gigs, everybody started being “Oop, my films shoot’s been cancelled, this show’s been cancelled, this shoot’s been canceled.” So then I was like “uh oh,” so I started thinking about going back to nursing and I put in two applications at U of M and St. Joe’s. Both of them were like “no, we’re good right now.” I was like, well let’s see what else I can do… and that’s when I decided to start working on this face shield project because I knew that there was gonna be a need and that’s where I could plug myself in and be more useful.
So most of the people that I’m talking to don’t have something as remarkable or huge as your face shield project but could you tell me just a little bit about what that is?
I was a nurse on 8D which is a ICU step down at University of Michigan, that’s where I used to work a couple [years ago]. (I quit in 2018, fall of 2018.) I knew that the… eye goggles that we have for a droplet precaution room are pretty non-substantial. I was trying to figure out what we could use as an alternative, knowing that we’re not going to have any wrought materials to use in the next couple of weeks; the supply chain from China isn’t going to be existent. So I was looking around for household products that we could use and stuff we could take off the shelves, the stores, or out of storage units of schools and stuff and that’s where the idea of using a transparency mask.
It was like a collective thing everybody kind of came up with the same idea at the same time. I think humans kind of do that once in a while, when the iron’s hot everyone goes “oh this is pretty good idea.” It wasn’t like I came out of this with like this noble idea — there’s people all over the world developing face shields and modeling. Then the open source nature of the maker community sprung up and everybody has an idea and everybody has a model that they want to use. My first idea was just to try and get an idea that I had printed onto the floor and see how it acted in real time, like, at the hospital. So that happened. While U of M was still trying to figure out what they wanted, we were using these in the real world.
So, you’ve sort of answered a question that I typically ask people but… some people are really struggling with the isolation and the upheaval to their lives and what they were previously doing. How are you… how are you overcoming that?
Well, it’s delicate because you know they say to self quarantine and I’m trying to be as careful as I can but I feel like if we all just sat in our houses… I mean, this is a perfect use for everybody being quarantined. We’re being very cautious about a central drop area where people are decontaminating their stuff in a bleach bath and we’re all keeping our distance. But the nature of it has forced me to kind of drive around— I’ve made deliveries to nurses all over the place.
So people can probably find fault with what I’m doing quite easily but at the same time I’m trying to be as careful as I can and trying to get these actually to stop the spread in the hospital. Because the nurses who are intubating— the CNRA’s and anesthetists— that’s the most risky part of this whole pandemic, is intubating a patient in close contact. You have to visualize the airway so they’re right in the patient’s face and that’s when there’s a lot of coughing and sputum.
So if I can get two of these masks onto some nurse’s face, you know, and stop one person from getting infected in the hospital then I think it’s worth me driving around and maybe being a little less cautious than I should be.
So I noticed that you’re wearing a mask while we’re talking here. Can you describe more of your specific precautions that you’re taking for your person?
Well, we have… there’s so much bleach here it’s kind of funny. I don’t even… I can’t even smell it anymore. People are like “whoa” and I’m like “what?”
I think I’ve destroyed my phone because of the amount of bleach on my hands. The touch screen sort of stopped working so I got a new phone and that was hilarious. I’m like, of all the times for a phone to die, when this thing is ringing every two minutes! I was like, “I can’t call you back, I can’t send.” The send button up at the top was where… it’s like the most important area of the phone died.
So we just have a lot of bleach and, you know, since we are a bunch of nurses people are taking precautions just with hand washing and distancing and I think the nature of our location is pretty good because we’re not in a residential area if you look around where we are there’s a railroad bed over here there’s the public works for Ann Arbor there’s no houses within 100 feet of us so even if we make this a hot spot by accident… We’re trying to hose it down with bleach, really concentrate. I have a little mister that I hose down with really concentrated bleach as often as we can.
So we’re taking as many precautions as we can. But I think it’s nice that we’re outdoors, too, because it doesn’t… it’s… I don’t know if it’s better or worse than being in an enclosed building, but the wind is blowing through here and you know doing its own house keeping. Yesterday everything blew away. (laughs)
So what advice or… what would you say to somebody who is so struggling with the new reality that they’re just sort of trying to go through day to day as normal? What would you say to somebody who is not… maybe not understanding the kind of precautions that we should be taking?
Yeah, I mean it’s real. The people that think it’s a hoax, that’s too bad because it’s real and they shouldn’t be watching Fox News. I would say just stop watching the news because there’s nothing you can do about the numbers. It’s just going to drive people crazy but people have a tendency to want to look at the numbers.
Try and get outside and go for a walk and stay positive. I mean the biggest, the coolest thing: I think you can look at this disease and be like “wow this is a bummer” but if you look at the nature of humanity, what’s happening right now with people coming together, people from completely opposite spectrums and beliefs… The people who are bringing the shields in, it’s hilarious. I’d love to take a pic— it’s like a Benetton commercial. Remember those? It’s like skinhead girl, Asian, black, Mexican, Indian. I’m like, EVERYBODY: old people are coming, little high school kids. So that part’s cool.
And then the best part of this disease is that it’s not affecting kids and if it was… I mean there’s gonna be some fatalities of the youth but if it was across the board an equal opportunity killer like that, then it would be horrific. You know I’ve got kids and it’s just… statistically, right now it’s a blessing that, you know, it’s not really affecting them.
The younger kids that they’re like “oh he was 25, perfectly healthy” I think we’re going — I mean, this is totally off the record, my conspiracy theory — but I think the kids who are getting it and are being affected are probably vaping. They should probably start looking into that because the vaping is a completely horrific thing to do to your lungs. It basically sets you up for a comorbidity right there.
If you don’t mind me asking: how do you see your own kids coping with the changes that have happened and how we’re living right now?
They were doing great, like, two weeks in… you know, they’re doing the ZOOMS with their teachers and it’s… I think the Bach Elementary is just such a fascinating group of teachers and leaders that they’re really trying to stay connected. It’s heartbreaking, but so far Evelyn only once we were trying to get some cookies out of the cookie jar and she’s like “Gah! Quarantine sucks!” and I was like “aww”… that was like the first time, that was maybe last Friday.
But otherwise they’ve come down here and tried to help. The problem is like Louis doesn’t… I don’t know if he’s claustrophobic or not but he doesn’t like wearing the mask. I’m like, “You’ve got to have a mask on when you’re down here.” But I mean, this is a great place for them because it’s like they can kind of run around and draw with chalk and stuff and sort of help out (it’s kind of like they’re helping). They’re just a couple blocks away so we’re seeing each other a lot. I think they are doing as well as can be expected.
Okay so my last question I think is: how have you adapted with like the day-to-day errands and going out (that everybody else has to do) that is a little bit different now. Like getting groceries and going shopping, do you have a routine…?
No, there’s no routine but this is very familiar for me because I’ve done this kind of disaster work. Like setting up a situation— they’re called pods, point of distribution. I was integral in setting one of those up after Hurricane Katrina and it was actually a pretty huge setup. It was a strip mall where we had an oval, semicircular drive where people pulled up and they got their product.
We had a pretty huge operation that was non-government, it was just a startup of a bunch of hare-brained people. It’s kind of what I thrive in is kind of setting up a little village. This is sort of like filmmaking, too. This is a production vehicle that I bring to film sets and so the traveling showbiz thing is kind of okay for me, I don’t have a problem sleeping wherever.
I guess what I mean is like grocery shopping and… I’ve talked to a lot of older people actually who are real concerned about going into public places and are doing, you know, curb pickups and things like that. I’ve also heard about a lot of sort of rituals around how to bring things into your house and cleaning them off and just letting them sit in the garage for a couple of days… do you practice anything like that?
Yeah well— since we have so many buckets of bleach here—anything, like, if I get a bag of chips or something, I just dump them in the bleach… bottled, you know, cans of Pepsi and stuff like that I’m just bleaching, just like it was a mask.
I did go into Menards yesterday because the camper had a leak and I needed to get some propane and some supplies. That was actually my first time going into a bigger store. That was interesting. I mean people were keeping their distance and everybody had their mask on but I was kind of like, I kind of wanted to get out of there because I had a thicker N95 on and I’m like “eh, this is getting a little weird.” I couldn’t find the parts I needed and, of course, I got all the wrong parts so now I have to go back there and return them all. The camper is not leaking anymore so that’s cool.
That was interesting, going in. Over the speaker they have like this, you know, “COVID 19 please wash your hands” blasting through the store. I’m like okay, we get it. It’s on like an endless loop. I’m like okay, it’s better than listening to Journey, I guess, but it’s like okay, we get the idea. So that was interesting.
Well, I appreciate you talking to me. Is there anything else that you would add?
Um, let’s see… yeah, I mean it’s a shame because my dad was still going into Walmart down in Florida and I’m like “dude do not go into those stores, the stuff is clinging all over the place.” The older people like to be stubborn and like to think this is a hoax and whatnot and it’s like: this is no joke, man.
So do the curbside pickup no matter where you are. I think anybody can get on the internet or you can call the place— it’s kind of cool, I think— and just leave the stuff out. But it’s the opposite of… like now he’s the teenager and I’m the dad being like: dude, be careful, this is no joke. He’s compromised, he’s got a pacemaker and stuff. I’m like: this is no joke, man. Stop watching Fox. So, that’s my advice.
Well thank you for talking to me Kevin!