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Blue Ridge Community College donates engineered mask supports to local healthcare workers

In an effort to help its local healthcare workers, Blue Ridge Community College is using its 3D printers to craft face mask supports that help masks fit more comfortably.

With all healthcare workers wearing masks throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many are reporting ear fatigue from the constant wear on their ears. The Blue Ridge mask supports act as an extender, made of plastic, providing wearers a more comfortable fit.

The project is a collaborative effort between Blue Ridge Brewing, Distillation and Fermentation Instructor Bryan McMahan, Chair of Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing Sharon Suess and our Nursing and EMS faculty.

“These mask supports remove the pressure from people’s ears because the masks will wrap around the supports instead of the ears,” Suess said.

The idea for the project came as Suess was researching items that Blue Ridge could easily produce for distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

McMahan said he was particularly inspired to take on this project by one of his brewing students who had years of EMT experience prior to making the switch to brewing. Seeing his student volunteer his time as an EMT to help his country during the pandemic really pushed McMahan and Suess to look inward and see what they could do as a college to help their community.

“I think it’s incredibly important to do anything we can to help increase the quality of life for these people who are putting their lives on the line every day,” McMahan said.

The support’s design was chosen as a free download from an FDA-approved website. Since the material and design is FDA-approved, no prototype phase was necessary.

Suess said the mask supports will first be given to Pardee Hospital workers before extending to Henderson and Transylvania County EMS.

The experience has not only been a rewarding experience for both instructors, but has been a learning experience for McMahan, who used this as an opportunity to learn how to operate a 3D printer.

“State and federal funding supports us and allowed us to purchase these printers, so we’re going to put them to use for the good of the community,” Suess added. “These supports will probably be given to a lot of our Blue Ridge graduates who work in healthcare now, so we’re effectively helping them as well.”

The first batch of approximately 100 supports were delivered to Pardee Hospital on Tuesday, April 28.

For more information about Blue Ridge’s Brewing, Engineering, Manufacturing or EMS programs, visit