face shields made by CMC's Isaacson School

Colorado Mountain College’s Isaacson School of Communication, Arts and Media is producing up to 100 face shields a day for health care workers and first responders.

By Carrie Click

This January, creating protective face masks and shields wasn’t in the lesson plans at Colorado Mountain College.

Today, two of the college’s entities are producing and donating protective equipment products for the regional medical community.

The Isaacson School of Communication, Arts and Media and one of the college’s sponsored programs, GarCo Design Works, have joined the national movement to create needed PPEs and supplementary protective materials to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Up to 100 face shields a day

The Isaacson School’s Prototype Lab at Spring Valley is part of the “maker community,” a technology-based culture with global user groups and forums. As news of PPE shortages spread throughout the community, the lab started developing concepts to address those shortages.

Brian Tinker

Isaacson School faculty Brian Tinker inspects a face shield clip that was made using the 3D printer in CMC Spring Valley’s Prototype Lab.

“The lab worked with CMC’s School of Nursing, Health Sciences and Public Safety, and with our emergency medical services faculty at the Aspen campus, to contact organizations in our region that might need PPE,” said Rob Martin, dean of the Isaacson School.

Among other prototypes in development, some with the use of a 3D printer, are an N95-grade face mask made from vacuum cleaner bags and an ear-saver clip that reduces the discomfort of wearing a face mask.

Supplying Grand River Health

Down the road in Rifle, GarCo Design Works is producing face masks during the pandemic. The masks are made from repurposed medical sterile wrap – the same material that regional health care centers donate to the sewing nonprofit.

The CMC sponsored program, formerly known as GarCo Sewing Works, teaches trade skills in industrial sewing and design to individuals who are participating in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, helping them to transition to work or education. The nonprofit is renowned for the recycled tote bags it creates from donated materials such as the sterile wrap made from a strong polypropylene plastic.

The staff began getting calls from the area’s medical community several weeks ago. Valley View Hospital asked for some of the wrap it had previously donated so the hospital could make masks in-house. Garfield County’s emergency response committee also called to ask about whether the organization could make medical supplies.

Kathleen Norman, GarCo Design Works executive director, said they initially made a small number of masks for the veteran’s home in Rifle. They’re now making and donating masks for Grand River Health’s hospital, clinics and skilled nursing facilities.

“These masks are not made to be a substitute for the high-grade N95 masks,” Norman said. “They’re being used for non-critical situations.”

Now that Gov. Jared Polis has recommended that all Coloradans wear masks when going out of their homes, GarCo Design Works is coordinating with CSU Extension and 4-H. “GarCo Design Works will continue making masks specifically for the medical community, while 4-H and other volunteers will make masks to meet the community needs,” said Norman (see end of story).

Although GarCo Design Works provides training, the students in the program are being told to stay home during this phase of the pandemic. So the four part-time staff members are making all the organization’s masks – over 1,500 so far.

“We have been averaging from 50 to 100 masks a day, Monday through Friday,” said Norman. “We plan to keep making masks until there is no longer a need.”


Garfield County Community Effort masks.

Garfield County Community Mask Effort

Thanks to a collaboration among GarCo Design Works, CSU Extension and Garfield County 4-H, the Garfield County Community Mask Effort is a coordination of volunteer sewers making masks for essential businesses and organizations.

This effort isn’t currently making masks for the general public, though the group has supplied instructions on how people can make their own.

Visit Garfield County Community Mask Effort to:

  • Help make masks or get patterns
  • Request masks
  • Coordinate obtaining supplies and dropping off completed masks
  • Make a donation.