Alumni

McIntire Professors, Alumni, and Students Aid UVA’s Community Larger Effort to Fight COVID-19

UVA alumni, parents, faculty, and students make an important impact, procuring PPE (personal protective equipment) for local medical professionals.

UVA Health receives a shipment of surgical masks donated through a grassroots effort by UVA alumni and parents in China. (Photo by Coe Sweet, UVA Health)

Despite all of the uncertainty caused by the current health crisis, there have been some incredible responses to these extremely unusual circumstances that show the inextinguishable power of the human spirit. Of those selfless acts, recent and ongoing initiatives by members of the McIntire community also demonstrate kindness, determination, and ingenuity.

UVA’s Chinese community, a group that includes dozens of faculty members, hundreds of students and their parents, and more than 2,000 alumni, has been actively involved in helping procure PPE (personal protective equipment) for medical professionals. Through a series of inspiring acts, the group has rushed to provide desperately needed resources to healthcare professionals at UVA and in the greater Charlottesville area.

A Coordinated Effort
Never underestimate word of mouth—or the power of a heavily used messaging app.

Chinese alumni were made aware of UVA Health System’s pressing equipment need after The Daily Progress published an article concerning a petition signed by hundreds of local doctors and nurses raising alarms about Central Virginia’s PPE shortage. Alumni helped spread word of the dire supply problem across more than a dozen University-related community chat groups on China’s social media platform WeChat, says one of the Chinese alumni leaders based in Charlottesville.

The groups got to work straight away. Conversations between the connected alumni, students, parents, and faculty members resulted in a drive to seek out reputable PPE vendors in China.

One of the volunteers tracked down inventory of FDA-certified surgical facemasks in a New Jersey warehouse. He suggested to the online community that they immediately acquire the masks approved for hospital use and donate them to UVA Health.

The enthusiastic response was met with an equally zealous fundraising effort led by McIntire Professors Jingjing Li and Natasha Zhang Foutz, along with the help of Sally Liu, wife of Darden Professor Dennis Yang. By the very next day, their efforts resulted in UVA’s Chinese faculty supplying half of the funds required to purchase the available PPE stock.

Spurred on by purpose, the WeChat community groups remained actively engaged in procuring the necessary support to secure the remaining masks, while an alum volunteer worked tirelessly to coordinate with the PPE suppliers to ensure a quick delivery of the desperately needed goods. Alumni club leaders in Beijing and Shanghai worked with parent committee leaders throughout China while keeping in close contact with local ‘Hoos representing organizations such as Chinese Students and Scholars Society (CSSS) and Mainland Student Network (MSN).

Over WeChat discussions and meetings after midnight in China, they reached their donation goal. The entire available inventory was purchased and shipped to UVA Health at once.

“One of the marvelous things about the UVA community is that, despite diverse backgrounds, we are tightly connected and are always willing to help,” says Li. “The fact that the faculty donated 6,000 surgical masks for frontline healthcare workers within 24 hours is a great example of our community’s solidarity and compassion.”

A Big Win
On Thursday, March 26, UVA Health received a shipment of 12,000 surgical facemasks, the first batch of the donation, bolstering the health system’s supply of personal protective equipment for its team members.

The fast and effective action by the University’s Chinese community was an impressive and heartfelt display for those so deeply involved in doing their part to fight the pandemic.

As one of many standing with local medical leaders and community members on the front lines, Foutz echoed the sentiment. “I grew up in a doctors’ family and know firsthand the sacrifice made by our doctors and nurses. Their courage and dedication will be passionately supported by our broad community.”

McIntire Dean Carl Zeithaml also responded ardently to the heartening news. “This support is a terrific example of the commitment and resilience of our UVA community, and I am so pleased that our McIntire professors were able to participate in it. I really appreciate their involvement. We will only get through this situation by working together, and this effort certainly demonstrates that important point.”

Students Do Their Part
Moved to join in the wide-ranging initiative, Nicki Xu (McIntire ’20) and Yulin Yu (A&S ’21) began brainstorming how they, too, could make an important impact locally.

“We were thinking about collecting spare masks, gloves, or sanitizers from Chinese students to donate to local doctors, nurses, and residents. However, we were not sure if we could get any because they are rare resources,” says Yu.

Posting a call for donations to the UVA Chinese students’ WeChat group, the duo was immediately met with dozens of donations. Within 48 hours, the two students obtained 190 N95 masks.

Xu says that the second challenge was locating a facility in most need. “We wanted them to quickly reach to those who needed them the most.”

“I talked to two of my McIntire professors, Natasha Foutz and Jingjing Li, as I knew they are actively organizing PPE donations among the local Chinese community as well. Both of them greatly appreciate our efforts and got us connected to SupportCville.com, a local community donation group.”

With their professors’ and SupportCville’s guidance, Xu and Yu were able to quickly gift the valuable supply of masks to Charlottesville’s Hospice of the Piedmont.

As many eldercare facilities are struggling under the threat of transmission of the coronavirus, while properly attending to its residents and those who care for them, the donation is all the more crucial.

Mike Smith, CFO of Hospice of the Piedmont, sent a thank-you letter underscoring the significance of the students’ lifesaving initiative. “We wish to express our deepest gratitude to our friends from the Charlottesville local Chinese community… Without your generosity, our doctors and nurses, and, by extension, their families would certainly face a greater risk of illness and death.”

Paige Perriello, a Charlottesville pediatrician responsible for the petition originally published in The Daily Progress, was equally grateful. “I just wanted to add my thanks for the incredible generosity and effort involved in collecting these masks. I am so grateful to you all for your work and care for our community. What a gift to Hospice of the Piedmont, their patients, families, and our community.”

“Chinese students have received so much support and love from our UVA faculty, fellow students, and the Charlottesville community, and we want to give back. In addition to social distancing, we are continuously seeking ways to help,” says Xu.

Ongoing Support
Li and Foutz say that drive to keep helping is fueling their grassroots appeal for more support in the local battle against COVID-19.

A second wave of donations is being collected via Gofundme.com, and the Comm School professors say they’re already seeing a rapid response from both the University and broader Charlottesville communities.

Encouraged by the swift procurement and delivery of the first batch of the masks, the community quickly secured sufficient donation funds to purchase the second batch, another 8,000 FDA-qualified surgical masks. The fund drive initiated by Li and Foutz again contributed to half of the masks. The alumni and parents in China, led by the volunteers, quickly matched the amount. They immediately secured the entire inventory that became newly available at the same New Jersey warehouse, and sent them towards UVA Health right away.

On the following Monday, March 30, UVA Health received another shipment of surgical masks; the second batch of 8,000 from the overall gift of the 20,000 donated masks.

Going forward, Li and Foutz are aiming to raise funds to secure additional qualified surgical masks. Ultimately, the masks will reach local healthcare providers to help the doctors and nurses protect themselves while fighting the pandemic and caring for our community.

In addition, UVA Health has established a donation center for local businesses, community members, and philanthropic groups to drop off equipment. Needs include masks, hand sanitizer, liquid hand soap, and non-latex disposable gloves.

The University is collaborating with Equip Cville, a local organization working to collect and redistribute donated PPE.

The UVA donation center, which opened Friday, April 3, will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. It is located behind the Education Resource Center, 1240 Lee St., at UVA Health. There will be signage posted to direct donors, and safety protocols are in place to protect those donating as well as care providers and patients.

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