Charlestown manufacturer builds face shields for hospitals fighting coronavirus

Hospitals — faced with massive shortages of personal protective equipment like masks and face shields — are increasingly partnering with local manufacturing companies like Dark Monk in Charlestown to help produce much-needed personal protective equipment for hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a groundbreaking new tool for fighting COVID-19,” said Dr. Gyongyi Szabo, chief academic officer at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment designed to keep doctors and nurses safe while testing and treating patients for coronavirus are in short supply at Beth Israel and at other hospitals in the Boston area and throughout the state. It’s almost impossible to rely on timely shipments as the coronavirus crisis escalates — forcing hospitals to pursue “novel” approaches, Szabo said.

“As unfortunate as it is, it is realistic to say the number of patients is going to increase and with that, we have major concerns that these supplies will not last unless we fund some others,” Szabo said.

Companies like Dark Monk — which typically builds entertainment equipment that utilizes fire — have heeded their call, changing up production lines to create protective gear that works in emergency rooms and intensive care units.

BOSTON MA. MARCH 25: Chad Bennett is making PPE visors in his Charlestown manufacturing shop, Dark Monk, on March 25, 2020 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

In his warehouse shop near Sullivan Station, Dark Monk owner Chad Bennett is ramping up production of face shields — polycarbonate visors that can help to protect doctors and nurses testing or treating patients. It took him five 14-hour days and several back-and-forth conversations and demonstrations with Beth Israel’s equipment testing and evaluation team, but he’s finally landed on a design that hospitals can use.

Assembling about 100 face shields per day, Bennett hopes to produce 1,000 over the next two weeks to donate to medical workers. Hospitals including Beth Israel, Tufts and Boston medical centers and a health system as far away as Worcester have all expressed interest in the shields, Bennett said.

It’s work Bennett said he’s happy to do.

“They’re literally putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk by what they’re doing, and they are the heroes of all of us — period. The rest of us just do whatever we can to support them — and that can be just to stay at home,” Bennett said.

He urged local manufacturers to pitch in where they can and to “wait for the prototypes” in the works from organizations like Harvard and MIT to cut down on design time.

Szabo applauded the “tremendous effort and support” by local businesses.

“We are trying to come up with new solutions … the question is what kind of time window we will have between that happening and us running out of supplies — that window is getting shorter and shorter,” she said.

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