Gannon engineers help our hospitals gear up – Something good happened in Erie, 3/27/2020

Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good story of the week:

First, the bad news: despite being Earth’s richest country, despite having the world’s largest economy and most robust and advanced medical innovation industry – COVID-19 is spreading faster in the United States than in any country on Earth.

COVID-19 positive tests per country as of March 25, 2020. | Graphic via

Aside from how fast it is spreading, as of yesterday the U.S. also has more total positive cases than any other country, including China and Italy. As of this writing, just five positive cases have been reported in Erie County. More are certain to follow, though, despite a proactive “stay at home” order from County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper having been issued on Wednesday.

Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, right, and sign language interpreter Mark Blakeley. | Photo via

We know why Dahlkemper acted. New York City got caught a step behind the virus, and is now running out of hospital beds for its COVID patients. Other cities – most recently New Orleans and Los Angeles – look sure to follow.

Dahlkemper has also been right out front in communicating where Erie stands and what is likely to lay ahead. Crisis communication is not easy, but it’s clear that Dahlkemper is in control of the facts, steady in explaining why she’s taken the steps she’s taken, and realistic about what we can expect in the near future. That’s all one could ask of their representative, in my opinion.

As for the rest of our community, Erie’s generosity is once again showing up in a big way during a time of need. As the whole country attempts to gear up for maximum capacity across our hospitals, medical staples such as gowns, gloves, and masks are suddenly in short supply. What that means for our hospitals is that, if we run out of those essential items, our health care workers might not find any available for purchase. At that point, they would be out on the front lines unable to protect themselves from infection.

Steven Rowland, left, and Nick Devine, of Gannon University. | Photo via

Enter Nick Devine and Steven Rowland, lab engineers at Gannon University. They have access to a 3D printer and a little spare time since classes were postponed, and they’ve been spending that time researching how to make rigid plastic face shields that are currently in short supply instead of watching tons of cat videos like the rest of us.

Devine said they simply began talking to Erie doctors about what they needed, then got to work making it. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Find a need, and provide the help. Doctors from Hamot, St. Vincent, and LECOM helped them master the design, and now they can produce 300 masks in just a few days at a modest cost of $5 per mask. They plan to donate all the masks they produce to either Erie hospitals or whoever may need them.

“Instead of sitting around and watching the news, we have equipment, let’s get off our butts and do something,” Devine said. That’s the Erie I love. We can meet this challenge, and we will.

There are other stories like Devine’s and Rowland’s popping up all across our area. Cloth masks are being sown, old supplies are being searched for, found, and donated, coffee is being doled out to medical staff – we are seeing the best of humanity all around us.

Now, maybe the worst never comes to pass in our area. With a little luck, Dahlkemper’s early action, and all of us doing our part to stay the hell away from one another, we could be spared. If there’s one thing this virus has taught us, though, it’s that you’re always better off a step ahead than a step behind. Lucky for us Erieites, our capacity for kindness and generosity seems to have been a step ahead all along.

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