Kitchener Teen Crafts Surgical Mask Ear Guards for Canada’s Front-line Workers

by Jane Pinzhoffer

When Nathan Lavoie purchased a 3D printer before the Coronavirus outbreak, printing ear guards for medical masks is not how the 18-year-old Preston High School  student expected to spend his final semester of high school. But with the onset of a global health crisis, the Royal Canadian Air Cadet stepped up to help when he saw a need in his community.

“I have lots of friends and family in the health care profession and once the pandemic started I saw they were getting chafing behind their ears from wearing surgical masks for long periods,” says Nathan.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, health-care workers and others are wearing masks much longer than they were designed to be worn and this can be quite painful. You may have seen photos of front-line workers who bear chafe marks from having to wear a surgical mask from the beginning to the end of their shifts, which can last for up to 12 to 16 hours straight.

Although he started out making the ear guards for people he knew, word soon got out and every day he continues to get requests from across Canada. At last count he had produced and donated in excess of 5,000 of the ear guards that are available in small and large sizes.

The ear guard design is simple, yet very effective. Mask straps, which normally loop around the ears, are instead affixed to notches on either side of the ear guards. This ensures that they stay in place without rubbing against the backs of the ears, eliminating discomfort for weary workers. “I have received so many cards, messages and photos thanking me for providing them with much needed relief from the pain the elastics were causing,” says Nathan.

The family’s two Cambridge-based businesses, Luxe Touch Consignment and Picture Us Photo Booth Experience, have assisted and sponsored Nathan with logistics, shipping supplies, postage and materials. He’s also received donations from the community and family members.

Although Nathan has sent the ear guards from Toronto to Calgary, he simply puts many of the useful little gadgets in zip-lock baggies and tapes them to the front door of his family’s home in Kitchener where they’re snatched up by grateful workers almost as fast as he can make them.

The Kitchener teen credits his leadership training in the cadet program, where he has attained the highest cadet rank of Chief Warrant Officer, for teaching him that you have to do whatever it takes to help other people.

Although Nathan has been accepted at Conestoga College’s Aviation program for September 2020, he still plans on continuing to make ear guards for as long the coronavirus pandemic lasts to provide health-care workers with some comfort.