Portable shelters protect medical workers, save PPE

By Kristen Meub

Photography By Randy Montoya

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Sandia shares free instructions for building outdoor COVID-19 testing booths

medical worker tests patient from inside portable testing booth
GIVE ME SHELTER — Sandia is offering, free of charge, the design and complete instruction manual for building a low-cost, drive-up outdoor shelter that shields health care workers conducting COVID-19 testing.

Sandia is offering, free of charge, the design and complete instruction manual for building a low-cost, drive-up outdoor shelter that shields health care workers conducting COVID-19 testing. The information is available for download on the Labs’ Licensing and Technology Transfer website.

Dr. Cody Saxton of Sandia’s medical team said that when a patient is swabbed for COVID-19, the swab must be inserted to the back of the nasal passage. When that happens, she said, a patient’s initial reaction is to sneeze or cough, potentially spraying thousands of infectious viral particles.

To help protect medical workers taking samples, Sandia designed and built a clear protective shelter that the workers can stand inside while testing patients.

Cody submitted the idea in mid-March when Sandia’s leadership team sent out an open call for ideas for rapid projects to help fight COVID-19.

“I was concerned about the pending personal protective equipment shortage, the continued safety of patients and health care workers, and also wanted to minimize waste from testing,” Cody said. “Testing personnel run a high risk of exposure. The booth design provides safe testing conditions for both the tester and the patient, even if PPE resources dwindle.”

In just four days, a team of engineers from Sandia’s Advanced Materials Laboratory, led by Michael Gallegos and Derek Reinholtz, ordered materials and designed, constructed, tested and completed two shelters.

The enclosures are made of aluminum frames and acrylic panels, with voice-activated radios and arm-length rubber gloves that enable a healthcare worker to swab a patient while standing inside the shelter. The unit also has a ventilation system that maintains positive pressure inside the box to further protect the worker.

“I think this project really demonstrates the team’s commitment to mission and the innovative spirit to really make something happen,” said James Carney, Advanced Materials Laboratory manager. “I’m exceptionally proud of them and can share that they were excited to be able to contribute and make this process safer for nurses and technicians.”

Sandia is currently working on more than 50 projects to help fight COVID-19. These projects include research and development in engineering, biological sciences, high-performance computing and computer modeling, materials science, nanoscience, technology transfer and other disciplines. To learn more, visit Sandia’s COVID-19 research website.