Local Students Are Making Sure the Tiniest Angelenos Are Safe from COVID-19

Tiffany Chang and her cousin Christie Huang developed a bitty face shield for newborns in local hospitals

Sixteen-year-old Tiffany Chang was troubled when she saw in July that 85 infants had tested positive for COVID-19 in a single Texas county. The county’s director of public health told CNN: “These babies have not even had their first birthday yet. Please help us stop the spread of this disease.”

Chang, a junior at a private high school for girls in Pasadena, felt she was well positioned to help. She runs a nonprofit with her sister and two cousins called Madhatter Knits, supplying knit hats for premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. Chang, who enjoys knitting as a hobby, started the organization by recruiting and teaching classmates to knit the tiny hats, which help regulate a baby’s temperature by preventing heat from escaping its body. When COVID-19 broke out, Chang pivoted to assembling and distributing kits containing gloves, disinfectant spray, and masks to protect new mothers from the virus (they’ve donated over 700 kits to local hospitals).

After reading about those COVID-stricken infants in Texas, Chang started considering how she could help. The CDC warns that infants and children younger than two years old shouldn’t be fitted with face masks because they can impair breathing and present a choking hazard. “But what about face shields?” Chang thought.

She found a story about nurses in a Thailand hospital crafting miniature face shields for babies whose mothers had to take taxis or public transportation to get home after giving birth. The goal was to protect the infants from airborne droplets from coughing and sneezing adults. “The face shields were just for a short-term protection,” the hospital said in a statement. The baby face shield story went viral, and the idea has since been borrowed by others, including a hospital in Evansville, Indiana.

Death rates for infants infected with COVID-19 are, fortunately, quite low. But according to the Mayo Clinic, “Children under age two appear to be at higher risk of severe illness with COVID-19 than older children. This is likely due to their immature immune systems and smaller airways, which make them more likely to develop breathing issues with respiratory virus infections.”

About a month ago, Chang contacted her 21-year-old cousin Christie Huang—a student at Caltech—and asked for her help building a newborn face shield. Huang, who’d just gone through a design and prototyping class, ordered materials online and created a prototype using a simple plastic shield, an adjustable elastic band, snap buttons to allow the shield to flip up and down, and memory foam to ensure no discomfort to the baby. Neither Chang nor Huang have infants in their families, so they tested the face shield on a toy doll. Granted, that’s not FDA-approved testing, but to combat the spread of this new, unprecedented virus—like all the DIY mask makers and remedy seekers—they’re experimenting.

“The pandemic is affecting so many people and we wanted to make sure that our most fragile little ones are cared for,” Huang said during a recent phone conversation.

Chang and Huang fundraised online to create 50 newborn face shields, which they donated to Arcadia’s Methodist Hospital, and their next 50 are ready to go. According to Chang’s mom, there’s a whole list of local hospitals that are excited to receive the face shields—now the team just has to figure out how to make them fast enough.

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