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With a 3D Printer, Making a COVID-Era Difference

Aug 14, 2020

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Hobie & Alice Cohen

In March, as hospitals around the country were struggling to equip first responders with the personal protective equipment they needed to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, Hobie Cohen had an idea.

He had a 3D printer at home and wasn’t using it. Why not put it to work making face masks?

He called around to area hospitals to find out how he could make and donate a few surgical-grade masks, and after a few calls, he reached a doctor at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Md. What the hospital really needed, the doctor told him, were face shields, those clear, half-cylindrical barriers that protect a caregiver’s face, including the eyes, nose, and mouth, from a patient’s bodily fluids that might otherwise lead to infection. The hospital needed thousands of them.

“I realized right away that this was not going to be an individual effort,” says Cohen, MBA ’16, a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin. “There was no way I was going to be able to do this on my own.”

But he fired up the printer, and got to work. He was determined to do all he could to help the hospital and its front-line medical professionals.

His wife, Alicia, meanwhile, got to work as well. She began reaching out to the Cohens’ social networks and to local media outlets. And, she set up a GoFundMe page.

Soon, they had a network of volunteers, money for materials, a website and a name: DMV Fighting COVID.

“People were very generous with their donations, and we were able to really ramp up our production,” Cohen says. “We started by just reaching out to friends and family, who donated a few dollars here and there, at first. Soon people were donating hundreds of dollars at a time.”

After just a couple of weeks, they were receiving donations from people they’d never met.

“It was just really tremendous to see people come together for this effort. We were posting daily to the GoFundMe page to encourage people by letting them know where we were with our printing and our volunteers.”

The generosity he saw wasn’t just monetary. People were giving their time and talents – offering their 3D printing skills, their publicity skills and more. “It’s been so rewarding to see this come together,” he says.

DMV Fighting COVID’s network of volunteers was churning out more than 100 new shields a day. Cohen, himself, was making about 20 of them.

Cohen graduated from UMD’s Clark School of Engineering in 2004, and spent a year in AmeriCorps after college. He went to work for Lockheed the next year, and in 2008 found another way to give back, volunteering his time as a construction crew chief for Habitat for Humanity, building and refurbishing townhouses and single-family homes.

“Acts of service,” Cohen explains, “are very, very important to me. They’re very big in my life. When I have time to serve, that’s really what I love to do.”

To date, DMV Fighting COVID’s 20 volunteers have donated more than 8,000 face shields, and other PPE to 24 organizations across the country. In addition to shields, they have created cloth masks and 3D-printed door openers.

Donations to the organization have slowed, as commercial manufacturers have ramped up their production of PPE, helping to address the needs of the country’s busiest medical teams. But the need for PPE donations, Cohen says, nonetheless persists.

Face shields and face masks are likely to become part of everyday life across the United States, as people look to get back to work and as schools look to open up. And communities will continue to need donations.

“It doesn’t cost us much to produce the face shields, and the labor is free,” says Cohen. “We want to continue to do this for as long as it is useful, and I think it will be for a long time.”

Visit dmvfightingcovid.com to learn more about the organization’s mission and to consider making a donation or volunteering.

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