Innovative new tools help first responders during COVID-19

Working together to develop solutions to help first responders


VHA’s Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) and the Veteran nonprofit, Challenge America, have partnered with federal agencies, private industry, research universities, and nonprofits for a series of COVID-19 Maker Challenges.

The series develops innovative solutions to the challenges encountered by workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. it began with a kick-off event and a week of team research and redesign, culminating in a two-day final make-a-thon competition.

During the two-day make-a-thons, engineers and designers developed solutions to the identified challenges. They used rapid manufacturing processes, like 3D printing, to scale for the needs on the ground.

The first COVID-19 Maker Challenge make-a-thon took place in early May. It focused on the challenges that first responders face. The nine teams of designers and engineers worked with them, VHA IE subject matter experts, and Challenge America leadership to complete their new innovative solution designs.

Winning team developed face mask for first responders

Teams first focused on how to decontaminate vehicles. Later, on how to lower the risk of infection between first responders and the public. This led to ideas on how to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19 between first responders.

The competition winner, Team Happy Face, developed a face mask solution for first responders. It was as durable as an N-95 mask, but less intimidating to constituents.

The latest COVID-19 Maker Challenge event began May 29 and culminated with a two-day make-a-thon on June 6 and 7. This event focused on the needs of environmental management service workers. The next Maker challenge will kickoff on July 10, and be held on July 17 and 18, focusing on ways to help assisted living homes.

There’s information for subject matter experts in engineering, manufacturing, 3D printing, infection control, industrial and experience design, emergency response worker, or health care staff. If you would like to participate on a team or submit a challenge, please visit the COVID-19 Maker Challenge webpage to learn more and register.


Matthew Razak

Matthew Razak supports VA as a contractor with Atlas Research, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm providing strategic advisory and applied research services to federal health and social service agencies. Matt has been working with VA for the past six years supporting social media and communication efforts.


  1. Joe LaBuda    

    Stop letting cops use the term First Responders

  2. Eva Chapp    

    I like the ideas of air sanitizers . However, assisted living centers need partnerships with schools, veterans and be able to use VTC capabilities with family members. Virtual interactions with others. Homework help, etc. Students need mentors these special Veterans need interactions, now there will need to be testing and protocols, but win, win especially with employees working in these settings.

  3. Alex Leibowitz    

    How about a small timer that is activated by a swipe of you hand and beeps after 2 minutes. This way kids (and adults) know when they have washed their hands long enough!

  4. Luzineide Elkins    

    Mask that won’t fog glasses ,lot of health care people suffer with this issue

  5. Nicole Stewart    

    Relocating veterans back into the community by training and teaching group homes how to care for COVID-19 vets.

  6. David Darell Galbraith    


    Every doctor that I have spoke with about Convalescent Plasma says that it is “crazy” and “stupid” that we are not using Convalescent Plasma as a stopgap procedure for treating the disease in it’s early stages, and as a prophylaxis to prevent catching this disease in the first place.

    But to date, the FDA has not approved the use of Convalescent Plasma except as an emergency treatment, after the patient is already on death’s door.

    If you are about to die and are already on a ventilator, your doctor will have to submit an “emergency application” with the FDA to request their “permission” to acquire and use Convalescent Plasma, so the doctor can try to save your life. Hopefully you will not die in the mean time.

    The depraved indifference exhibited by the FDA and our government is astounding. It seems like daily I hear of a Nurse, a Doctor, an EMT, Fireman or Police Officer, or others that have died from Covid-19. Every one of them would likely be alive today if they had a prophylaxis dosage of Convalescent Plasma while they were still well.

    All of these first responders are exposed to this viral disease continuously. This means that they are receiving a massive “viral load”, and hence get so sick that they die. If they had received a Convalescent Plasma treatment as a prophylaxis, all of these people very likely would be alive and well today.

    Convalescent Plasma is found in the blood of people that have had Covid -19 and are now healed. This blood contain antibodies that are specifically formed by the body to destroy the Covid-19 found in the body. Convalescent Plasma has been used as a stopgap method for 130 years with great success. It should have been in use I the UnitedStates since January, 2020.

    It is surely too late for far too many, but it is not too late for everyone else.

    Share this message with as many people you can. It really is about life and death.

  7. Alice LeDoux Abraham    

    Where is link to apply for July workshop?

  8. Nancy Middlebrook    

    Hey…ii am also a vet but I cam try to get you a used computer if you still need one…I am in Texas where are you located?

    14- yr Army Veteran

  9. Alberto T. Gonzales    

    I have designed a self-supported and repurposed enclosure that can be used remote lab, quarantine room, recovery room, or remote living quarters for first responders. How can I get funding to pursue production and distribution?

  10. Lee Zimm    

    I jest gave the Brevard Florida 4 what I call them SUN SHINE Boxes. Each had a 60att UV-C which will kill every thing in the box in 5min.a roomin 1 hr.

  11. Sterling Anifantis    

    Use air ionizers both for room and personal along with SUV lights throughout the hallway doors and exits.

    1. Mel Peterson    

      A dentist uses a vacuum system to remove possible contaminates during root canals. This could be done for all ER and ICU’s to reduce exposure.

  12. Robert Wislowski    

    I would like to participate in the 7/10 make-a-thon.

  13. Sunniah    

    With the escalation of this Corona Virus I am surprised that all first responders and doctors and nurses do not have something like a full hazmat suit with contained oxygen that fully protects them.

  14. Charles Henry Smith III    

    It’s simple. Promote handwashing, wearing masks in putblic & social distancing and advertise it as “Be patriotic…care to be your very best…frequent handwashing for 20 seconds wear your mask whenever in public and practice smart shopping and social distancing. Be a patriot and have VA offer patriotic masks for sale, especially for Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, National Guard and Coast Guard.

  15. DENNIS FINN    

    SMILE !

  16. Romualdo Ramirez    

    Pay all first responders and front line workers school dept, clean the slate. What they owe is not worth their lives.

  17. Gary Breckenridge    

    VA teleaheath should be first responders for COVID-19. By suppling computers to Veterans with reprogramed teleheath. I’m a Veteran with no computer or shart phone to use and contact the VA and get Teleheath. How many like me are there?

    1. Nancy Middlebrook    

      Hey…I am also a vet but I can try to get you a used computer if you still need one…I am in Texas where are you located @ Gary Breckenridge.

      14- yr Army Veteran

  18. Michael Roderick    

    What you have is a T2 issue. “Technology Transfer = T2” I think I was the T2 SME for the USAF before I retired as a JAG 1 Aug 2017. If you haven’t already you should engage the 711th Human Performance Wing, which is part of the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright Patterson AFB, OH. This is the kinda of stuff they invent, develop, contract for etc. If you have software issues, contact Frank ??? at Rome Laboratory, the Information Directorate for AFRL, in Rome, NY.

  19. Zak Lockman    

    I am more interested in startup funds and research grants. I live in an isolated community and having access to this technology and its benefits could help hundreds of people. What could the VA do for Veterans who want to jump into this expanding and important technology.

  20. Joe Trusty    

    Where can we get more information about 3d Printing challenge? Is the Covid 19 Maker challenge open to businesses that have business in VA but are registered in other states?

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