MSIM Community Joins Efforts to Retrofit 6,000 N-95 Masks: Inside the Operation

As the nation and world come together to combat the novel coronavirus, members of the MSIM community are joining efforts to restore N95 masks.

Across the world and nationwide, the novel coronavirus has caused immense changes to the way global citizens experience life. On the front lines, healthcare workers are engaged in an around-the-clock effort to combat the virus and prevent future transmissions. Social distancing and thorough handwashing are the new norms as people do their part to “flatten the curve”.

For healthcare workers, however, their first line of defense often comes in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE) which includes masks, gowns and face shields. As supply chains work to replenish dwindling supplies, communities are rallying around hospitals and contributing PPE donations. But when Tufts Medical Center (Tufts MC) received an invaluable donation of over 6,000 N95 masks, they soon realized that the brittle elastic bands needed to be replaced. 

As news spread of the donation’s condition, current students and a graduate of the MS in Innovation and Management program joined volunteers from Tufts University’s Fletcher School, School of Engineering and School of Dental Medicine, as well as other local area universities, in an operation to repair the masks.

“There wasn't really any thought about whether or not I wanted to get involved. Once the opportunity popped up, my response was just to start moving forward with it,” said James Aronson, MSIM ’19. “In this case, I believed that my experience as an engineer, especially in design and fabrication, as well as my ability to help coordinate efforts, would enable me to make a contribution.”

Haiting Chan, Nirant Chilimbi and Lee Ann Song, all MSIM ’20, joined Aronson and several other volunteers at their workspace located in Tufts School of Dental Medicine – a few blocks down from Tufts MC. The group stresses that the operation is truly a joint effort with over 25 volunteers contributing their time.

"It's been a real honor and privilege having the opportunity to work with James. He's a very thoughtful and caring, humble and competent leader," said Song. "While I was eager to help, I was feeling pretty paralyzed and devastated by all the uncertainty myself, and it felt nice — almost meditative — to be able to do something menial but meaningful." 

Bringing Volunteers Together and Executing the Repairs

After the Fletcher School’s Military Fellows Program coordinated with NOLOP – the maker space at Tufts University – and the School of Engineering, they quickly identified a workspace at Tufts School of Dental Medicine which would allow them to practice social distancing while meeting production needs. The volunteers, including students from MIT, worked collaboratively with stakeholders from Tufts MC Supply Chain.

Lindsay Mclaughlin, Assistant Dispensary Manager at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, describes the procedures in place for a volunteer-led effort to retrofit over 6,000 N95 masks that were donated to Tufts Medical Center.

Clad in PPE and six feet apart, the volunteers developed a process to retrofit the elastic bands on the N-95 masks. Since establishing their processes, the team released instructions and details on the materials they used.   

From threading the masks to outfitting them with stoppers, restoration efforts are well underway. Over a third of the masks were repaired by the end of the first week. Get an inside look at the operation:


While the efforts are ongoing, hospitals across the nation are gearing up to continue delivering a high standard of care. According to experts, the situation surrounding COVID-19 could test the preparedness of the country's healthcare system.

“I think everyone is aware that there is a nationwide shortage of PPE. Even with this shortage, first responders and medical staff still are stepping up. If they are willing to put themselves in harm’s way, I think we need to be doing everything we can to properly equip them,” said Aronson.

Aronson added, “It can also be considered from a ripple perspective. Each and every one of them is and will be providing care for an untold number of patients going forward, so it's absolutely critical to try to limit their risk of infection. They are the backbone of a healthcare system that is at risk of being overwhelmed.”

Although the situation looms large, efforts like these bring light to an otherwise uncertain time.

"My mom is a nurse, so I worry about her safety every day, and knowing that hundreds of others are working on creative ways to manufacture or repurpose materials into PPE is comforting," said Song who is also reaching out to connections made throughout her Sprint project to see what additional efforts she can get involved in.