West Virginia On Track To Make PPE And Other Vital Supplies In State

May 27, 2020

West Virginia is now poised to be able to produce its own personal protective equipment, swabs and ventilators in state to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. 

When the coronavirus hit, personal protective equipment was hard to come by, and state officials even put out a call for citizens to make homemade masks. Swabs used for the coronavirus tests and ventilators were also in short supply. The problem was twofold: Demand skyrocketed as the pandemic swept the globe, and many of these items were made overseas -- notably in China. 

So Gov. Jim Justice tasked the West Virginia National Guard to work with various entities across the state, including private companies, West Virginia University and even correctional facilities to develop “in-house” supply chains. 

At the daily virtual press briefing Wednesday, Adjutant General James Hoyer unveiled some of the products, including a portable ventilator. He said the federal government will test the units for potential use in the U.S. military “particularly special operations and the emergency response community.” 

Masks, reusable gowns and 3D printed swabs are in the works, he added. 

“We’ll have the capability going forward to make up to 10,000 swabs a week, that will again enhance our ability as a state to be able to test because of continued challenges nationally to get testing equipment,” he said.

The swabs were developed by the Innovation Hub, a new initiative at the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, in partnership with WVU Hospital and  3D printing manufacturer Formlabs, based near Boston. The engineering college used Formlabs printers for other projects, WVU said in a press release. 

“From the onset of COVID-19, Formlabs felt compelled to provide assistance knowing that the speed and flexibility of 3D printing could improve the shortages caused by COVID-19, and we are proud to see our community of users continue to join the fight against this pandemic,” company CEO and cofounder Max Lobovksy said in the release.

Meanwhile prison inmates are making reusable gowns and masks through the prison industry program, which connects inmates to private sector jobs in an effort to decrease recidivism. These gowns and masks will be part of a six-month reserve in case West Virginia experiences a surge in cases. 

In the press conference Hoyer said another prototype mask the West Virginia Guard has developed is heading to WVU and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health at the end of the week for final testing. That mask, if approved, will be equivalent or better to an N-95 mask, Hoyer said. 

The idea, Hoyer said, is “how do you address our own problems but how do we create that as an opportunity going forward for West Virginia to be an innovative leader.” 

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from Marshall Health and Charleston Area Medical Center.