By LYNETTE HAALAND, Four Points News
Days after the coronavirus pandemic hit Austin in mid-March, local Four Points residents jumped into action and created COVID Rangers to help supply medical workers and first responders with personal protective equipment.
As of Memorial Day May 25, the local COVID Rangers have made and delivered 8,500 mask covers, 850+ face shields, and 5,190 ear guards.
“When we first got started there was nothing but bad news all around us,” said Paul Boomgaart, co-founder of COVID Rangers. “We decided to become a rallying point to help get our community engaged in a positive way.”
COVID Rangers began in Steiner Ranch as a grassroots effort and now has more than 1,000 registered volunteers nationwide.
The group got started by listening to what the medical providers and first responders were asking for and did exactly that.
Doctor Lorissa Hines raised awareness of the need for PPE for the medical community and Sofie Jones, who has incredible sewing skills, started making mask covers with the assistance of Claudia, Boomgaart’s wife, who would cut the patterns and assemble the masks. Then Hines would distribute them to medical providers.
“I was inspired by what Claudia and her friends were doing and realized that with some digital support, we could take what they were doing and get many people involved,” said Paul, who owns a small tech consultancy kordami.com
Initially the idea was to mobilize more local families but once the website went up, “it took off and soon we became hundreds and then thousands of volunteers.”
The network is much larger than the 1,000+ registered volunteers “since we encourage everyone to use the website and create PPE in their communities,” Paul said.
COVID Rangers provides instruction and guidance via the website, and at last count, the website had over 52,000 users.
Vandegrift graduating senior Gabriel Diaz is one of the volunteers who has been creating face shields. He consulted engineers and doctors and researched how to make the shields.
“I have been designing face masks with the help of Rodrigo Alvarez, a PhD from Stanford and he’s really the smartest man I’ve ever met,” Diaz shared early on in the process.
Boomgaart brothers Michael, senior, and Alexander, freshman, have also been volunteering with their parents with COVID Rangers.
Another set of brothers has been working for the cause. The Dholakia brothers have also been in high production. At peak, four 3D printers were going non-stop at the Dholakia house in River Place.
Devan, Vandegrift graduating senior, Julian, VHS 10th grader, and Adrian, 7th grader, have been working together to create ear-savers for face masks.
Ear-savers are plastic extenders that attach to the ear straps of face masks. Early on many masks were being made but there was a need for ear-savers, so the brothers were excited to pitch in and help.
They said they enjoy seeing posts and pictures of healthcare workers using and appreciating the ear-savers they have made.
“It’s also been very rewarding to see how our robotics skills of CAD design and 3D printing can be used in real-life situations,” said Julian, who is a member of ViperBots Valor, as was Devan.
The brothers would also like to see their efforts help their aunt, who is in the U.S. Navy and who was recently activated to help at a large COVID-19 medical center.
The brothers shared, “we would like to keep printing and send her and other people helping, as many ear-savers as they need.”