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WASHINGTON - Face masks are good. Face shields are better.
Or so thought Dinh Tran Tuan.
Like masks, which cover two favorite entry points of COVID-19 - the mouth and the nose - face shields are also in short supply. But the shields, clear plastic full-face coverings, also block the wearer's eyes, another coronavirus pathway into human victims.
Clearly, he thought, shields are a better option for frontline health workers.
Dinh, not just a thinker but a doer, in March organized 55 fellow Vietnamese Americans from the Thanh Tinh Buddhist Temple in Rochester, N.Y., and by early April, they had production under way. Within the month, the volunteers delivered 5,500 hand-crafted shields in a variety of sizes to fit a variety of faces to Rochester General and Strong Memorial hospitals, two of the largest in the area.
"When we delivered the face shields to the hospitals, they were very appreciative and sent many thank-you notes,"said Dinh, a 48-year-old native of the Vietnamese resort town of Nha Trang. "That really boosted our morale because we all knew we were lending a helping hand to stop this epidemic, especially in the New York region.
Gerald Gacioch, chief of cardiology at Rochester General Hospital, the largest hospital in the Rochester Regional system, received 1,840 face shields made by Dinh and his team.
"Everybody that has seen them loves them," Gacioch said. "We would be delighted to accept as many as your generous community offers."
"They are GREATLY appreciated," Gacioch said in an email to VOA Vietnamese.
"He made a prototype and had my staff and me try it out," Gacioch wrote. "WAY more comfortable and breathable than our standard face shield. This is vital when doctors and staff may need to wear them for hours at a time. Hearing is also good and we can use a stethoscope with them!"
A chemical engineer at Xerox Corp. for more than 20 years, Dinh said that after reviewing and rejecting multiple online alternatives, he designed a face shield that is easy to make and easy to use.
The materials include clear plastic and foam. An elastic band that rests on the wearer's forehead makes it wearable.
To maintain social distancing, different teams of volunteers took on different tasks. Those living near one another were assigned similar or closely related tasks to
ensure a smooth workflow, said Dinh, who arrived in the United States in 1989 to join his father, who left Vietnam in 1975.
The biggest challenge the volunteers faced was securing rolls of industrial-grade plastic, a hot commodity because of its role in face shields.
Some 60 temple members donated $12,600, which meant Dinh could purchase enough plastic and other supplies to fabricate 8,000 face shields, some of which were sent outside the Rochester area to hard-hit New York City and its suburbs, and to Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern California.
Dinh said the that once New York state facilities started obtaining their own supplies after the group made its initial donations, they decided to send shields "where the frontline health care workers need them most, regardless of location."
The volunteers were enthusiastic. Everyone understood they were doing important work, he said. Many more temple members wanted to help than Dinh could assign to work.
Phan Thi My, a devout Buddhist who has volunteered at the temple for years, said she responded immediately when Dinh started calling for help.
"I read on the internet that doctors and nurses were in dire need of medical supplies, so I was really happy I could help," she said, adding that the work had kept her busy since she
was laid off in late March from her job as a manicurist at Pro Nails, a non-essential business, in Webster, New York.
Tran Van Hiep, 64, volunteered out of a sense of compassion and duty. A regular volunteer at the temple, he retired in December from Art-Craft Optical, a family-owned optical frame manufacturer in Rochester, where he was a technician. The Saigon native arrived in the U.S. in 1994 under the Orderly Departure Program. He and many people in the community were willing to work day and night to get the job done.
"Who knows if I'll still be alive tomorrow," he said during face shield production. "Our life is predestined. Even if you stay home, you can't escape your own fate. So I don't mind going to the temple to help out. I'm ready to do whatever is needed."