Harvard University COVID-19 updates

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Cononavirus Leads Hospitals, Volunteers to Crowd-source [The Washington Post]

Cononavirus Leads Hospitals, Volunteers to Crowd-source [The Washington Post]

When Harvard University professor Ethan Garner pondered how to help health-care workers facing a lack of medical equipment as they fight the novel coronavirus, he thought about Burning Man.

Garner is a regular at the week-long celebration in Nevada, where attendees fend off the dust with masks, goggles and gloves. He pitched the idea of donating those items to “Burners without borders,” the group’s nonprofit arm, which blasted it out on their newsletter.

A deluge of offers followed.

Garner, a biology professor, next turned to the Internet to find doctors in need, many of whom are posting with the hashtag #GetMePPE, short for “personal protective equipment.” That was when he realized just how many health-care workers were desperate for gear — and how many people were trying to donate but unsure how to do so.

He and two friends started a spreadsheet to track which hospitals across the country needed masks, goggles and other resources. They soon joined other groups, who launched a coalition working through the website getusppe.org.

Garner said he and an army of volunteers now spend as much as 18 hours a day coordinating their efforts. He said he does not know how much is being funneled to the hospitals because drop-offs are handled by local groups. But thank-you notes from doctors so far number in the hundreds.

“You have an idea, throw it on the Internet, and watch it grow,” Garner said. “The response has been overwhelming. It’s really nice to see all of America come together.”

Some hospital systems have embraced donations from civilians, including Providence Saint Joseph in Washington state, which launched the “100 million masks” project to send mask kits to volunteer sewers. But others, including Henry Ford Hospital System in Detroit, say they are not accepting the hand-sewn masks, which have limited efficacy.

The D.C. Hospital Association has not yet issued guidance for donated supplies of protective equipment but has surveyed its members on the issue and is examining what other states have done, said association spokeswoman Jennifer Hirt.

In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis (D) launched an innovation response team Sunday that will combine public and private resources to try to address critical medical supply shortages. One of the team’s goals is creating local alternatives for protective equipment typically manufactured in Chinese factories and elsewhere that have halted production.

Sewing enthusiasts in rural south-central Colorado, who typically make quilts for cancer patients and blankets for children in need, “lit up our Facebook” with offers to make masks, said Kelly Gurule, director of the San Luis Valley Health Foundation.

Gurule said she would like volunteers to make at least 20,000 masks — although she said is unsure whether there is enough material to do so. She said the system goes through about 2,900 masks a week at its two hospitals and clinics.

The masks would be used by health-care workers treating non-coronavirus patients — conserving scarce N95 masks for nurses and doctors treating those who are critically ill with the virus. The health center was working with Adams State University’s chemistry department on Monday to test the masks and the filters.

Volunteer coordinators at UVA University Hospital in Charlottesville put out a call late last week for handmade surgical caps and masks to bolster dwindling supplies. Crafters in the UVA volunteer database shared the email on social media, including links to patterns, and elicited responses from throughout the state, said volunteer coordinator Maureen Oswald.

To protect workers interacting with patients who have the coronavirus and other infectious diseases, the hospital is seeking 1,000 masks and 200 sized for children, in addition to 1,800 surgical caps in different styles.

“This is something our seamstresses can do while sheltering in place,” Oswald said.

In Minneapolis, Martha Grant, whose day job is working for a nonprofit technology company, has been hand-sewing masks because she does not have access to a sewing machine. She was struggling to find drop-off sites in her area, so she started a website, sewmasks.org, to coordinate the efforts of her fellow sewers around the country. She has been working with Get Us PPE for the past few days.

Grant said the priority should be on getting masks to health-care workers. But she hopes to expand the effort to include all workers who are not able to do their jobs from home, including grocery store and pharmacy employees.

“We don’t have a shortage of crafters,” she said.

Some hospital systems have taken the lead on crowdsourcing. At Johns Hopkins Health in Baltimore, Burton Fuller, the system’s vice president and chief supply chain officer, wrote a mass email this month asking faculty, staff and students for help crafting face shields.

“General tasks will consist of cutting with scissors and razor blades, as well as hot gluing and stapling,” Burton wrote.

Dylan Hardenbergh, a third-year medical school student at Hopkins who had been looking for ways to help since medical and nursing students were barred from the hospital, was among hundreds who volunteered.

Hardenbergh went several times last week to a massive Hopkins warehouse, spending hours cutting strips of Styrofoam that will go at the top of the face shields. He said volunteers used hand sanitizer when they entered, wore gloves and sat at tables by themselves — more than six feet away from one another.

They made 1,000 face shields that were approved for use in the hospital during the first weekend, according to a Hopkins blog post. Now, they are being asked to make an additional 49,000.

“It’s an opportunity for us to be involved and contribute, even if we can’t be in the hospitals,” Hardenbergh said.

For physicians, those efforts are encouraging. Hopkins epidemiologist Aaron Milstone said a team meets each morning to discuss what is needed to prepare. He said Hopkins is also working to manufacture a solution known as “viral transport media” that is needed to transport samples of the virus for testing.

“It’s great to see people thinking outside the box and getting creative,” he said. “We are all out of our comfort zones.” 

Sometimes, the crowdsourcing is less formal. In Montgomery County, laboratories and research facilities are donating their extra supplies of protective equipment to area hospitals, said Ben Wu, chief executive of the county’s economic development agency.

Officials said the county’s environmental department also donated several thousand masks it had in store for employees to use cutting grass.

In Washington, D.C., Nicholas Durand was worried about his wife’s pediatric practice not having enough masks, so he turned to Facebook, then his massive Cleveland Park neighborhood email group.

He collected more than 300 masks in less than 24 hours.

By Rachel Chason 


Jennifer Oldham in Denver and Jenna Portnoy, Rebecca Tan and Hannah Natanson in the District contributed to this report.