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Coronavirus: Kitchener educational tech company now making protective equipment for health care workers

Click to play video 'Kitchener technology company that sells educational tools to schools now manufacturing protective visors' Kitchener technology company that sells educational tools to schools now manufacturing protective visors
WATCH ABOVE: Catherine McDonald spoke to the CEO of INKSmith about why he got involved and the community support. – Mar 24, 2020

Jeremy Hedges started a technology company called INKSmith four years ago selling educational toys for design thinking and coding to schools.

He said he never imagined he would be using that equipment to manufacture personal protective equipment for health care workers in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic.

Hedges said he currently has about 10 employees, but is looking to hire approximately 100 more workers as the company begins mass producing protective face shields.

After learning that Health Canada had approved his company’s prototype on Monday, the entrepreneur said he is now working with the federal government to laser cut as many face shields as possible.

READ MORE: Ontario reports 85 new coronavirus cases including 2 deaths, total active cases at 572

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“I think in the short term, we’re going to scale up to meet the needs of the province soon. After that, we’re going to meet the demands of Canada,” said Hedges from his company’s office in Kitchener.

Hedges said he first heard about the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) from a friend who is a doctor and has been following the spread of the new coronavirus since January. It was not until Friday that he was contacted by the Kitchener Waterloo Academy of Medicine, a local chapter of the Ontario Medical Association, and asked if INKSmith could help.

“Honestly, I think we’re all inspired by it all,” explained Hedges, adding local citizens have been donating headbands made with 3D printers like the ones they sell after the company put out an ask on their website.

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Many other companies have also been contributing to the effort while the plastic visors are being laser cut with the equipment the company normally sells to educators.

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It’s not clear when the plastic visors will be distributed to hospitals in need, but Hedges said he knows the demand is huge. He added he is honoured to be involved in protecting doctors, nurses and other frontline workers.

Doris Grinspun, the head of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario, told Global News on Monday that Premier Doug Ford should assign two or three manufacturing companies to produce surgical masks and ventilators due to a province-wide shortage.

“The only fear is not having enough personal protective gear,” said Grinspun when asked if she feared for the safety of the approximately 44,000 nurses and nurse practitioners her organization represents.

At Queen’s Park on Tuesday, Ford, and Health Minister Christine Elliott, said when shortages are reported, the materials are being replenished.

READ MORE: Doug Ford appeals to businesses to make medical supplies

“We’re seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. We’re getting more masks, there are gloves on order,” Ford said.

“If they’re short over the next few days, we’re going to fulfill their requirements.”

Elliot also told the media that they are dealing with international competition for PPE,s but are receiving supplies and working with local Ontario companies.

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Dr. Adam Kassam said it’s hard to reconcile the messages from hospitals with what politicians are saying. The Toronto physician said within the hospital, they are being instructed to “ration” masks and gowns.

READ MORE: Ontario health officials sound alarm over impending shortage of masks, protective gear

“Instead of using a mask for one patient, workers are being forced to use them over a prolonged period of time,” said Kassam.

He said he is encouraged to hear about the Kitchener company now manufacturing protective shields.

Kassam said the additional PPEs are much appreciated, adding the challenge will be on-boarding these new supplies to the places that need it most.

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