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Task Force working to solve COVID-19 problems

Image of COVID virus

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.

For weeks, an interdisciplinary group of engineers, researchers, health care professionals and university leaders has been working behind the scenes to solve COVID-19-related problems.

Organized by Mizzou Engineering, the Hacking COVID-19 Task Force includes representatives from University of Missouri Health Care, the MU Office of Research, the Schools of Medicine and Nursing, the College of Education, the UM System and Missouri University of Science & Technology.

“During this pandemic, health care professionals who are concerned about supply shortages and looking for unique solutions came to us because they knew we had the capability to solve problems,” said Kevin Gillis, task force chair and interim chair of the Department of Biomedical, Biological and Chemical Engineering. “Bringing the task force together allowed us to align our resources with talent we have across the UM System to address critical needs caused by this virus.”

The group has been meeting since mid-March to identity the most-pressing needs. Because the situation has been fluid, task force priorities have been evolving daily.

“We have many project ideas moving quickly and a lot of rapidly changing needs,” Gillis said. “After pinpointing areas in which we could have the greatest impact, we were able to prioritize our projects.”

Immediate needs are in hospitals and nursing homes as medical professionals prepare to treat COVID-19 patients without putting themselves or others at risk. Personal protective equipment tops the list of the task force’s priority projects.

Those supplies include face shields for Controlled Air Purifying Respirator systems as well as methods of reprocessing PPE such as N95 masks, said Marty McCormick, executive director of strategic planning and marketing for MU Health Care.

“The task force is assisting as an aggregator in identifying community and UM System resources that can provide and/or produce equipment and supplies needed for MU Health Care as well as other essential health care providers in the region,” she said.

McCormick stressed that top MU Health Care administrators — including Dr. Ted Choma, chair of University Physicians and vice chair of Orthopaedic Surgery, Marcy Maddox, director of supply chain operations, and Dr. Stephen Barnes, division chief of acute care surgery and planning chief and medical branch director of MU Health Care’s COVID-19 incident command — have played an integral role in identifying most-needed supplies.

Working groups comprised of faculty, staff, students and external partners are now developing production processes to manufacture and distribute protective equipment to MU Health Care facilities.

Additional supplies will be distributed to other health care facilities in the community, state and across the region. Researchers are also sharing their designs so other groups can create their own equipment.

In addition to equipment, the task force is also working to solve other COVID-19 problems such as preventing further spread of the virus. Members are launching production of an effective hand sanitizer to distribute to nursing homes.

“The Hacking COVID-19 Task Force demonstrates the university’s ability to come together as innovators and thought leaders, roll up our sleeves and solve the real problems people are facing,” said Elizabeth Loboa, Dean of the College of Engineering. “It’s another example of how Mizzou is the university for Missouri.”

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