Student volunteers are helping to get thousands of personal protective items into the hands of medical professionals fighting COVID-19, even sourcing items like gloves and masks from surprising places.
As the COVID crisis sweeps the nation, Medical Supply Drive has made its mission to ensure personal protective equipment is delivered.
Founded by Georgetown University medical students, the nonprofit organization is entirely led by over 400 nationwide student volunteers and counting. Joya Ahmad, a post-baccalaureate pre-med student at Fordham University, is the Northeast Region Coordinator, representing the U.S. COVID-19 epicenter, New York City.
She said, when the students deliver the PPE items to doctors they are greeted with gratitude, relief and sometimes even disbelief. The doctors tell them, “Thank God for these supplies. Now, I can think about my job. If only for a few days, the collective anxiety in my department has come down… I can be the physician I want to be,” Ahmad said.
She first got involved after spotting a call for action on Twitter. At the time, most coordinators were based in Washington D.C. and the west coast, with a dire need for northeast representation.
Since joining the movement, New York has nearly 60 volunteers, having just launched a Long Island chapter filled with students from Stony Brook University. To Ahmad, what makes the New York group special is its diversity, combing people from different cultures and professional spheres.
The city sector has donated upwards of 17,000 gloves, 500 masks, and hundreds of various supplies, such as cotton applicators, coveralls, gauze, goggles and disinfectants. Deliveries are sent to a variety of local hospitals - Elmhurst, Bellevue, Kings County, Maimonides, Mount Sinai, NYU/Winthrop, Woodhull and all 10 affiliates of Montefiore.
“This is an all hands-on deck moment… we know this is a marathon,” Ahmad states. Other coalitions have partnered with her team, like PPE to NYC, run by Columbia and NYU students, or Mask Crusaders, a community aid fund.
Most donations come from individuals who simply have enough stocked away. University labs chip in, but a surprising amount has come from unexpected places, like tattoo parlours or libraries. “Rare book and manuscript libraries often use a lot of personal protective equipment when handling ancient books. They have coveralls, masks, cleaning supplies – all stuff that I had no idea was sitting in a library,” Ahmad said.
Medical staff aren’t the only ones in centers facing the front lines, and needing PPE. The workforce includes doctors and nurses, health administrators navigating patient insurance, janitors maintaining a sterile environment and more. Ahmad said she thinks about how everyone facing the pandemic has the same fears, the same hopes.
“Even if the case numbers are lower in the future, those numbers are people. That person doesn’t care if they’re 1/100 versus 1/1000. They’re sick and scared," she said.
Despite this, Ahmad is hopeful, and finds strength in the New York community. “It’s easy to fall into this resignation, ‘the world is ending’, and maybe it is, but I’m not going down without a fight – and neither is New York City. If one person is saved, then it matters.”