In-person Mask Drive at 18th & Dolores. Photo by India Perez-Urbano

UCSF Students Mobilize to Help During COVID-19 Response

Contributor
School of Pharmacy

Nearly a month after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, life for most students at UCSF has been moved entirely online.

With some exceptions, didactic courses are taught remotely, in-person clinical experiences have been suspended, and non-critical research has been curtailed.

In many ways, it can feel as though the UCSF community has been split apart as students remain segregated from each other to prevent further spread of the virus.

But amidst the panic, chaos, and uncertainty accessory to life during a pandemic, a glimmer of solidarity appeared on March 14 in the form of a Twitter post. UCSF School of Medicine (SOM) student Colleen McGourty’s tweet offering to help relieve the burden of domestic responsibilities on healthcare workers quickly circulated throughout the online UCSF community.

“@UCSF @UCSFMedicine providers, if you're in need of support right now, my classmates and I are here to help you with childcare, errands, etc. We have a list of students willing to help out during #COVID19 response. Get in touch with me or another student if you need something!”

That momentous tweet has burgeoned into what is now the UCSF COVID Student Aid initiative, a group comprising at least 500 UCSF students with representatives from each of the schools.

Galvanized by efforts across the nation to contribute to the COVID-19 response, COVID Student Aid aims to provide support to both UCSF and the greater San Francisco community through comprehensive projects such as organizing blood donation drives, assembling and distributing groceries through Meals on Wheels, engaging seniors who may feel especially isolated, improving COVID-19 health literacy, participating in COVID-19 research studies, and collecting donations of much-needed personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and gowns for front-line healthcare staff.

Fourth-year medical student Cecilia Im, one of the organizers of COVID Student Aid, told Synapse that the downtime gained from the movement of most SOM operations online was naturally concordant with addressing the immediate need for community support.

“The broader community and the broader environment just felt uncertain and we wanted to do something about it,” Im said. “We saw so much need, we had so much time on our hands, and we just mobilized.”

One notable manifestation of the group’s efforts is the estimated 20,000 donations of masks, gloves, and other supplies the group has amassed over the past couple of weeks through in-person collection drives, small business such as private practices, veterinarian hospitals, and nail salons, and large corporations like Sherwin-Williams, which donated 2500 masks alone.

 

The dental office of Dr. Robert Soto donated 600 gloves and 450 masks, gowns, and sanitizing wipes to UCSF COVID Student Aid. Photo by Dr. Robert Soto

 

Brandon Yan, a third-year medical student, is one of the leaders of the PPE collection projects for COVID Student Aid. With equity at the forefront of the efforts, his team partnered with DonatePPE.org to connect community donors with hospitals in the Bay Area in most need of the supplies.

“We’ve had tremendous outpouring of support from the local community from small businesses and large businesses alike,” Yan told Synapse.

“We’ve seen such generosity and willingness to help, and we also want to point out that the UCSF situation was dire and has improved, but the situation is still relatively dire for many of our colleagues at hospitals in the Bay Area, across the United States, and the world, really.”

In an effort to mobilize students from all of the UCSF schools, a representative from the SOM reached out to second-year pharmacy student Leena Dolle, who was so inspired by the collection drives that she joined the COVID Student Aid group and started her own efforts to collect PPE.

Dolle and Adriana Gardner, a first-year pharmacy student, are working to develop a more sustainable donation system by installing PPE collection boxes in various community pharmacies across the Bay Area.

They collaborated with UCSF School of Pharmacy (SOP) faculty to utilize the network of community pharmacies already established for student rotations and have been granted approval to set up collection boxes at 66 Walgreens locations, 14 CVS Health stores, and independent pharmacy TIN Rx.

(Left to right) Three TIN Rx employees, Marianne Duran, Leena Dolle, and Adriana Gardner at a PPE drive at TIN Rx on April 4th.

 

Dolle and Gardner, with the help of dozens of students from the SOP, plan on coordinating with most of these sites and have already established pharmacies as far out as San Ramon, Pleasanton, and Palo Alto.

Gardner says there are many ways for the community to contribute to their efforts and that no donation is too small.

“Even if someone just has a leftover box of masks from the fires, if everyone donates a box then that can make a big difference,” she said.

The students have also partnered with Alto Pharmacy, a San Francisco-based independent digital pharmacy. In late March, Alto Pharmacy began a drive to pick up PPE donations from locations across the Bay Area and has agreed to also collect the supplies from the community pharmacy sites that Dolle and Gardner are coordinating with.

“I think it’s the best way to socially distance and to donate,” Dolle said.

Map of PPE Drop-Off Sites

 

These massive efforts undertaken by UCSF students may serve as a hopeful reminder that even during such isolating times, a sense of community can be fostered by simply reaching out and offering a helping hand to others.

Im, for one, expressed the gratitude she felt towards her virtual COVID Student Aid community, which has organized all of its tremendous efforts so far from in front of their computer screens.

“I really want to emphasize that the work UCSF COVID Student Aid has done has been dependent on so many different people,” Im said. “That the group is so many amazing individuals working together to collectively create change.”

Both UCSF COVID Student Aid and the SOP students are always looking for more volunteers to expand their efforts. For UCSF students wanting to contribute, you can email the UCSF COVID Student Aid group at [email protected], the SOP group at [email protected], and visit https://pharm.ucsf.edu/ppe to find more information on PPE drop-off pharmacy locations.