Yankee Ingenuity Shines in COVID Times

Yankee Ingenuity Shines in COVID Times

Yankee Ingenuity Shines in COVID Times

First of all, let me clarify something to our Southern readers who may be a bit touchy about the word “Yankee.” I’m not talking about Northerners. “Yankee ingenuity” here means “improvisational design or problem-solving, dealing with low availability of replacement parts and materials.”

We’re now seeing some of that improvisation during this time of COVID warfare, especially with our need for respirators and ventilators. Take ventilators, for example. They’re used for coronavirus patients who show signs of severe respiratory failure, as the disease moves into the lower lungs. However, these are no sleep apnea devices; doctors in full hazmat suits must fully intubate a patient. They might also cut a tracheostomy in a patient’s windpipe to insert the tube. Not only that, but patients might need to be on a ventilator for weeks in an intensive care unit.

In other words — use of a ventilator is a Big Deal. And during the COVID crisis, the country needs both respirators and ventilators, which, by the way, are not the same thing.

So big companies are now stepping up. For example, auto giants Ford, GM, and Chrysler-Fiat are using their factories to produce respirators and ventilators, although they’re not working quickly enough for President Trump, especially GM. So he used the Defense Production Act to compel GM to produce ventilators.


GM Headquarters, Detroit. Credit: ritcheypro/wikimedia commons/public domain.

But where Yankee ingenuity is really shining is in the engineering departments of some universities. Take, for instance, MIT, which is developing an open-source respirator. Not only that, but it’s cheap, costing only $100. Known as “E-Vent,” the device uses masks that ambulance crews use and attaches them to a motor which squeezes air into the bags. MIT isn’t the only group working on such a device, either; the University of Minnesota is developing a similar invention.

Then there’s the engineering department at Vanderbilt University (in Nashville, TN, for you Southerners) which is working on an open-source ventilator. They’re using, of all things, a windshield wiper motor, along with drawer glides and plywood. It, too, would be open-source, so that anyone could replicate it.

Awkward-looking? Yes. Nor do they look like the multi-thousand dollar equipment we see in hospitals across the US. Plus, there’s that sticky problem of the federal government, because the Feds have to approve these devices. While MIT has already submitted their device to the FDA, it will take time to get approval — if they get it at all. That’s because while the MIT team has conducted tests on pigs, they haven’t announced results yet. Not only that, but they haven’t tested their device on humans yet.

To quote Shakespeare: Aye, there’s the rub.

No doubt we’re traveling in uncharted waters during this crisis. But with determination and some Yankee ingenuity, we could see the rise of open-source medical devices that would benefit patients now and in the future.


Featured image: Matt Harasymczuk/flickr/cropped/CC BY-SA 2.0.

Written by

Kim is a pint-sized patriot who packs some big contradictions. She is a Baby Boomer who never became a hippie, an active Republican who first registered as a Democrat (okay, it was to help a sorority sister's father in his run for sheriff), and a devout Lutheran who practices yoga. Growing up in small-town Indiana, now living in the Kansas City metro, Kim is a conservative Midwestern gal whose heart is also in the Seattle area, where her eldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandson live. Kim is a working speech pathologist who left school system employment behind to subcontract to an agency, and has never looked back. She describes her conservatism as falling in the mold of Russell Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. Don't know what they are? Google them!

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