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Published October 26, 2020
University of Wyoming history student TJ Barker, from Colorado Springs, Colo., and Tyler Kerr are doing their part to make sure Albany County’s poll workers are safe on Election Day by providing them with personal protective equipment (PPE) -- mainly safety shields.
Since March, when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kerr, the makerspace coordinator, and his student-led team at the Innovation Wyrkshop have produced thousands of pieces of PPE for medical facilities and first responders throughout the state. UW’s largest makerspace has been the largest independent entity to produce 3D-digital face protection equipment in the state. For months, Kerr and his team were working around the clock producing face masks and face shields -- all free of charge.
“We have continued to produce PPE -- albeit at a much slower pace -- to ensure that, if there is an increased demand, we would be able to provide PPE in the interim to help Laramie weather the storm, so to speak,” he says. “The student staff and I have been back to normal, teaching workshops and courses and helping visitors with projects. Whenever printers weren’t running for visitors, we tried to ensure the equipment was still being used to produce PPE -- not out of demand, but rather simply to stockpile them in case of a second or third wave of COVID-19.”
As a result, the team has built quite the stockpile in 3D printed PPE -- to the point that the equipment is taking up valuable space in the makerspace’s benches and tables. Because the team can always produce more, Barker proposed donating PPE to Albany County’s poll workers for protection during the Nov. 3 general election.
Albany County Clerk Jackie Gonzales simply “loved the idea” and promptly ordered 200 face shields for the poll workers and staff.
“I met with Tyler and was excited to hear about the donation and thought, ‘What a nice gesture from the UW team to think about the safety of the poll workers and the voting public,’” Gonzales says.
She says the PPE will be made available to the volunteers who want it. She adds that the available clear plastic face shields will be an asset because some of the voters like to read lips, making communication easier on both sides of the table.
Kerr says if poll workers are more than 6 feet away in well-ventilated areas, face shields may make it easier to convey instructions more effectively than communicating instructions with a mask on.
“We really appreciate the thoughtfulness, not only for our judges, but for the electors they serve,” Gonzales says.
Barker says early last week he happened to read an article asking young people to volunteer as poll workers.
“Typically, poll workers are unpaid volunteers and tend to be older people who have more free time and better-developed political opinions,” Barker says. “With the pandemic, a lot of these older individuals haven’t felt safe around crowds of people, so the nation is facing a shortage of volunteers to run these essential polling stations. I made the suggestion that we donate our surplus of PPE to local poll workers to help keep them safe, and Tyler took it from there.”
Kerr says the PPE will be delivered to the clerk’s office the day before the general election.
“Our hope is that this may provide an added line of defense to keep poll workers and election officials safe,” he adds. “Face shields aren’t intended to replace face masks, but rather to complement them. We want everyone in Wyoming to feel safe and secure when exercising their right to vote.”
Barker says it is essential young people his age become involved in their communities.
“Voting is absolutely essential for the survival of our republic, and I’m excited to see my generation trying to get involved and take a more active role in shaping our destiny,” he adds. “The pandemic has made life hard but, if we continue to help each other out, we are going to beat this thing together. I am proud to work at a place where we put effort into helping others and making a difference in our community.”
Kerr encourages people from the community to reach out to him if they want face shields.
“We can provide face shields to at-risk members of the public who wish to vote in person,” he says. “Every vote counts. If this can convince people who may have previously been on the fence about voting safely, and if we can help to safeguard election officials from what will likely be historically larger voting crowds, I think we have done our civic duty.”
Kerr adds that the Innovation Wyrkshop also is extending an offer to any Laramie school and will provide as many face shields as educators would like.
“If any educator or administrator needs face shields for staff or for students, just let us know,” Kerr says.