The state’s flagship university is working with the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency to get face shields and masks to frontline workers battling COVID-19.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event that truly calls for all hands on deck," said DHSEM Cabinet Secretary Kelly Hamilton. "We're thrilled to have great partners like UNM who directly help ensure our medical and frontline workers are able to safely and effectively do their critical work."

“As the University for New Mexico, we are thrilled to be part of serving the people of our state during such a critical time,” said UNM President Garnett S. Stokes. “Thanks to the governor’s office, the Department of Homeland Security, the UNM School of Engineering, and those throughout the state for showing such ingenuity, generosity of spirit, and commitment to the well-being of others.”

The UNM School of Engineering jumped into action following Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s proactive measures to slow the spread of the virus. Engineering faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students began 3D printing face masks and producing face shields for medical providers and other first responders across the state. Thanks to grant funding, they were able to secure supplies and equipment for a 24/7 operation at a COSMIAC, an aerospace research center based in the School; and began manufacturing 500 masks a week starting April 10.

“We just finished delivering 1,000 masks and 400 shields, along with food and hand sanitizer, to Gallup and McKinley County – they were incredibly thankful, and it’s because of this statewide effort,” explained Christina Salas, an assistant professor of the Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation at UNM. “It was an honor to deliver the PPE to Representative Patty Lundstorm, the McKinley County Fire Department, the National Guard, and medical providers at the Miyamura High School, which is being used as a COVID-19 treatment center.”

Mask and face shield delivery to Gallup
Mask and face shield delivery to Gallup

Salas is the special assistant to the dean of the School of Engineering for Health Sciences Center relations and was appointed to coordinate and lead the School’s efforts to create personal protective equipment (PPE). She worked with UNM engineers and hospital physicians to ensure that the correct specifications were met. The State’s Medical Advisory Team has since endorsed the development of the UNM 3D printed masks and face shields in accordance with the FDA guidelines.

With production in full swing, it soon became clear that distributing the PPE was going to be a task too big for UNM to handle alone. Through cooperation with the governor’s office, the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) agreed to help. DHS will pick up the protective equipment from COSMIAC, take it to state area, and distribute it as requests come in – ensuring the masks and shields reach communities in a quick and efficient manner.

The School of Engineering group received a small startup grant, thanks to the efforts of faculty at COSMIAC, but the funding for the supplies used to make the masks has nearly depleted because of the constant production.

To respond to the need, a UNM Foundation fund has been set up for those wishing to donate for the 3D mask supplies for the masks produced at COSMIAC.