Chris Tollefson, a 1995 Crookston High School graduate, works at Mayo Clinic Arizona in Phoenix.  He is the Operations Manager in Radiology and during the COVID-19 pandemic, he was looking for a way to make face shields to help his co-workers stay safe.  In a couple of days, he came up with a design and made hundreds of face shields.

Tollefson was looking for a way to make face shields while using easily accessed material.  “We came up with version 1.0 using material that wasn’t going to be in high demand.  We started with laminate sheets, window stripping, and velcro strapping because people wouldn’t be using that.  You wouldn’t need a 3-D printer to make it,” said Tollefson. “That was our first version and it worked fairly well.”

After the immediate need was met, Tollefson kept working on a better version and said he has a friend that also likes to tinker with things.  Chris went to his friend’s house (who happens to have a laser cutter) and they were looking to make a better face shield, where the only thing thrown was the laminate sheet.  “He had a mat that we were standing on in the garage that was a good substance.  It doesn’t soak up water, it takes heat, it takes anything.  We actually tried it with his used floor mat first.  That was our first test batch,” said Tollefson.  “Out of 12 floor mats, we could make 25 face shields.  It would take about 20 seconds to cut each head foam piece and it took us about six hours to cut those 12 and we had 300 of them.”

Tollefson said they put together “Santa’s Workshop” at work and recruited techs in areas that weren’t busy and worked on creating the new protective face shields. “It was surprising that it didn’t take that long to come up with something that fits,” said Tollefson. “By this time everybody had started to make their own and that meant the plastic banding was gone so we had to come up with a new tied.  We took two hair bands, we bought like 600 hairbands. We used those as the elastic piece and it hooked into the floor matting headpiece and we used the soft Velcro that people use to hold up vine plants and that is what we used for the strap.  That was the hardest part of the whole deal, trying to find a replacement for the elastic.  Necessity is the mother of invention, right?”

Tollefson surprised people at work with how quickly he went from version 1.0 to 2.0. “One radiologist said I think you skipped a couple and went right to 5.0,” said Tollefson. “They were very surprised that in a day we came up with something that looked pretty professional and something that was reusable and with little waste.”

Phoenix, Arizona hasn’t been hit hard by COVID-19 at this point.  “It has really been minor for several reasons.  We are very spread out, our metropolitan area is huge.  We had set up a tent outside for triaging COVID patients and luckily we have barely used that tent,” said Tollefson. “I think we have hit it (the peak), and now they are saying the life of the virus is decreased in heat and sunlight and we were 96 degrees today and supposed to be 100 this weekend.”

Tollefson and his wife Jennifer (also a CHS grad) have two sons and one daughter. Chris is following his father’s footsteps and coaches his son’s Pop Warner Football team.  Chris’ father, Sherm Tollefson, was a longtime teacher at Highland School and football coach.

The full interview with Chris can be heard below, or on Valley Talk on Wednesday, April 29 at 10:40 AM.  We also have a video that was done about the face shields below.