The Future is Ms. is an ongoing series of news reports by young feminists. This series is made possible by a grant from SayItForward.org in support of teen journalists and the series editor, Katina Paron.
As the number of COVID-19 cases rise, so does the demand for personal protective equipment.
Manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand to produce face shields, respirators or full-body suits—and that’s where Makers for COVID-19 comes in.
A group of worldwide volunteer 3D printer owners, Makers for COVID-19 combines technology, creativity and a sense of being part of the solution. And it happens to be run by a teenage girl.
In March, Karina Popovich first heard of an Italian company that 3D prints ventilators.
“That’s when I realized that it would be best to start a coalition of makers,” said Popovich, “where we could all come together and offer each other guidance and really educate the public to get more people making.”
A couple weeks later, Makers for COVID-19 delivered its first face shield to a local New York City nurse.
Most of the members of Makers for COVID found Popovich through Reddit in a group that encourages people with 3D printers to print personal protective equipment. Working with Popovich allows members to focus on the manufacturing of PPE without worrying about fundraising or finding hospitals to donate to, says Mark Kwack, a member of Makers for COVID.
“Without Karina and the support of this group, I’m pretty sure I would produce a lot less,” he said.
Once someone joins, one of the 16 organizers Popovich manages updates the new member with the specifications and gets them started. Completed PPEs are sent to a hospital of the makers choice or to Popovich who takes care of the distribution. With over 250 members and counting, the makers’ output exceeds 22,000 units of PPE a week, according to Popovich, and serves nurses and other hospital staff in the US, the UK, Ireland and five other countries.
Popovich, a freshman at Cornell University, first got into 3D printing through STEM programs at her New York City high school. She said that while there were many girls of color thee she never saw any in the spaces she was in.
“It’s so unfortunate that I can count on one hand how many black and latinx women I’ve met in STEM,” says Popovich. “That’s a huge problem, so most of my energy is spent helping those girls and trying to flip the switch on how people present technology.”
According to the Catalyst.org women of color earn the smallest share of STEM Degrees, especially in the US. Latinas makeup 3.8 percent while black women make up only 2.9 percent.
Popovich, a first-generation teen of Polish descent, is especially pleased that Makers for COVID-19 can serve her home city so directly. About 75 percent of the supplies the group makes go to hospitals in New York City, where the virus has claimed nearly 24,000 lives.
Diana Torres is one of the hospital staffers that uses Popovich’s PPEs. As a midwife at Jamaica Hospital in Queens, New York, Torres received face shields and ear guards for the midwives in the OBGYN and ER. Because of this connection, Makers for COVID-19 now serves Elmhurst, Metropolitan Hospital and other NYC Health & Hospitals where there are midwives.
Popovich says she’ll keep on leading Makers for COVID-19 as long as there is a demand for PPE. This is a relief for the volunteer makers, like Rob Shick.
“I cannot overstate how great it’s been to have someone spearheading the coordination between institutions in need and those of us looking to help,” said Shick, a graphic designer in Massachusetts. “It seems as though, with all the climate activism last year, Karina’s generation is very engaged and determined to not to accept the status quo.”