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Shield the Bay blends human-centered design and equity to deliver face shields to healthcare workers most in need

Illustration by Erin Manzanilla (@erinmvanilla on Instagram), a 15 year old artist and student from San Lorenzo High School.

As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to escalate in the United States, healthcare providers across the country are dealing with a shortage of personal protective equipment, which has left many workers on the frontlines vulnerable to catching and transmitting the virus.

In the Bay Area, an initiative called Shield the Bay is aiming to address this PPE crunch. A team of designers and students, Shield the Bay is producing and distributing face shields to hospitals and emergency response systems in order to meet healthcare professionals’ needs on the frontlines of COVID-19. With a focus on public institutions that are located in and serving communities of color, equity is critical to their mission.

“Our approach is founded on the idea that we need to quickly deliver a product, at scale, that healthcare systems will be willing to use now,” says Jaspal Sandhu, an assistant adjunct professor at Berkeley Public Health and a member of the Shield the Bay team.

Sandhu is an expert in human-centered design, and Shield the Bay certainly aims to put this design approach into practice to fabricate face shields for healthcare professionals. By definition, human-centered design puts the user’s perspective into all steps of the design process. Shield the Bay has relied on the perspective of frontline healthcare workers to make this product work in the most critical clinical environments.

In early April, the team produced and delivered prototypes to Highland Hospital in Oakland. The shields were then trialed by nurses, who commented on the size, durability, comfort, and other aspects of the face shields to help improve the design.

“Very rarely are healthcare workers asked for their input. We love this opportunity!” one recipient commented in a post-trial survey.

And as the team continues to fabricate more face shields with help from recipient input, scaling up production is becoming even more essential. Healthcare professionals in the Bay Area are using tens of thousands of shields each day to stay safely protected. Fueled through the efforts of a team of volunteers, every $50 donation provides shields for 100 patient encounters.

For more information, visit the GoFundMe page for Shield the Bay and contribute to the effort to provide healthcare professionals with the safety tools they need.

In addition to Jaspal Sandhu, the Shield the Bay team includes human-centered product design experts Catherine Newman, Jessica Granderson of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Sean Miller of COSMO; assistant professor of chemistry Michael Zuerch and his graduate students; undergraduate student Gillian Chu and a growing team of student volunteers.