Geisinger developed two new forms of protective equipment for its frontline medical workers and in five days or less, began deploying the intubation shields to its hospitals and ambulances.

The shields are designed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and bolster Geisinger’s inventory of protective equipment at a time when hospitals face mass shortages of masks and other potentially life-saving gear.

One design is specific for facility use — a see-through polycarbonate cube covers a patient’s upper body, with two holes cut out to allow a doctor or nurse to reach through and, for example, slide a breathing tube down a patient’s throat.

The cube is too bulky for ambulance use. Geisinger designed a different shield for emergency medical services — a see-through shower curtain draped atop PVC piping fitted to a stretcher.

Medical and facilities staff devised the concept, created multiple prototypes in-house and settled on a final design for in-hospital use in about five days. It took about three days to turn around a shield for mobile use.

“We had about a week to get this implemented,” said Christopher Heiss, a certified registered nurse anesthetist. “For something like that to happen in a hospital system where you can run into a system of red tape, I was very impressed.”

The coronavirus spreading globally causes COVID-19 — a respiratory disease that’s infected more than 883,000 people and caused more than 44,000 deaths, according to a tracking tool used by Johns Hopkins University.

Since the coronavirus is novel, or new, the science behind it is evolving, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus is thought to spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Respiratory droplets are flung about 6 feet in the air — thus, the 6-foot social distancing rule — and can be breathed in by others within that radius. Or, humans touch a surface where the droplets landed and can spread it by touching their eyes, nose or mouth.

Heiss said in monitoring the virus outbreak internationally, he saw the use of an intubation shield in South Korea. Asked in March to assist in emergency preparedness, Heiss thought back to the shield and pitched the idea.

Dr. Douglas Kupas, emergency medicine and EMS physician, and Dr. Scott Vaughan, anesthesiologist, joined Heiss and others in creating prototypes and choosing final designs. Al Neuner, vice president of facilities operations, said Vaughan came to work on his day off Monday, which happened to be National Doctors’ Day, and worked on prototypes he developed on his own.

“I just felt that was above and beyond,” Neuner said, adding that “dozens” of people aided the project in some way.

Geisinger sourced the materials with volunteered help from Cole’s Hardware and Montour County Emergency Management. Neuner said 60 shields of both types will be shared this week within the Geisinger system, some built in-house and others built on contract through a manufacturer.

Kupas said to some degree, the shields are more vital for ambulance providers. Keeping 6 feet of distance between patient and provider in the back of an ambulance is an impossibility, he said.

“It also can be used if you have somebody laying on their floor at home,” Kupas said.

The shields are meant to protect everyone in the room when a COVID-19 patient is being treated: patient, provider and potentially a loved one bedside.

“As long as we’re protected, we can stay working,” Heiss said.

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