Face shields, masks … maybe even housing: How NJIT is helping N.J. in COVID-19 crisis

Joel Bloom jokes that an aerial view of New Jersey Institute of Technology — taken from a drone you’d figure one of the country’s leading STEM universities would have — would show that the Newark campus was like a ghost town in a movie.

“If you were hovering from 10,000 feet, you would see a lot of vacant grass, concrete buildings, rooftops, etc.,” he said.

Bloom, the school’s longtime president, said the campus is 99% empty.

Those who remain, however, are doing exactly what you’d figure they would be doing — using technology to help the state battle the COVID-19 outbreak.

ROI-NJ, in its continuing coverage of the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on business in New Jersey, gave extra attention to higher education this week.

(See our stories on its impact at Rowan University, County College of Morris, Monmouth University and Centenary University.)

NJIT President Joel Bloom.

In its MakerSpace building, NJIT students and faculty are making face shields that health care workers on the front line so desperately need.

“MakerSpace is not a manufacturing facility, but it’s a prototyping for manufacturing,” Bloom said. “Can we manufacture? Certainly. So we’ve changed a little bit from prototyping. We’ve mastered that facial shield that just about anyone needs who’s in the public health sector.”

Students and faculty are producing approximately 75 face shields a day, using 3D printers. So far, Bloom told ROI-NJ, he estimates the school has delivered approximately 500 field masks to the cause, many of which went to nearby Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark.

And MakerSpace is not the only place where the school is producing product. Bloom said many of the faculty are doing what the can to create other pieces of personal protection equipment — such as masks — at their homes, too.

“We are not making, nor do we try to replicate that desperately needed N95 face mask,” Bloom said. “That’s something that we’ve not gotten into. But (we are making) other kinds of masks, the masks that you and I may want to wear in an area that is taking people in — not treating them.”

Bloom said the effort is not intended to create revenue, even in a time when NJIT — like all other universities — is getting hammered financially. This is how the school helps out in a time of crisis, he said. Any product it manufactures is given away for free. It follows up on a previous gesture, when NJIT faculty went through its various research labs in search of PPE, donating all the masks, gloves, goggles and gowns it did find.

“We’re not going into the business, we’re just trying to help out,” he said.

Of course, NJIT is in the business of conducting research. And Bloom said the school is eager to get back to doing that — especially when it comes to health care and health care safety, two verticals it has been involved in long before anyone knew the term COVID-19.

The school is involved in research surrounding clean rooms — how you develop them, how you keep them clean. It’s where so much health care needs to occur, Bloom said.

And NJIT is working on opening cell and gene therapy labs, where work will be done to combat viruses.

That work is on hold.

For now, NJIT is doing what it can do.

There’s manufacturing — which Bloom notes is done by students practicing social distancing and wearing PPE. And, if others want to help, NJIT is eager to share what it knows with anyone who asks, especially when it comes to face shields.

And there’s housing. Bloom said the school is in the process of opening in its now empty dorm space for health care workers at Saint Michael’s who cannot easily get home and back after long shifts. The dorms have not been used yet.

“We’ve gone in and set up those facilities at the request of (the hospital),” he said. “These are folks who are healthy. They are well-protected on their jobs, but they can’t always get to and from their house. And we’ve got vacant residence hall runs. So that’s the next chapter, if you will.”

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