On March 17, I woke up early, took the GO bus into Toronto, and walked into the hospital expecting a long day ahead: I am an undergraduate research student working with a busy team of researchers.
The day before, I happened to read one of the first few online threads from Italian doctors describing the devastation COVID-19 was causing to their health care system. I was nervous, but not overly concerned — the media was reporting that cases in Ontario were solely travel-related and well-contained. But when I got to the hospital, my supervisor informed me that the hospital had confirmed its first case and that emergency planning was ongoing. I left early that day. I haven’t been back since.
Shortly after, my university announced that all in-person classes would be cancelled. In the days that followed, schools and businesses closed.
I had a unique vantage point when this pandemic began here because I work with many health care workers on my research team. The physicians I know – usually confident and stoic – were worried. Many had lived through SARS and they told me COVID-19 bore many of the hallmarks of the 2003 outbreak.
Overwhelmingly, each and every one of them expressed stress and fear that when COVID hits Ontario, that they wouldn’t be able to protect themselves. They were scared that they would run out of personal protective equipment (PPE).
While the rest of the world is doing their part by staying home and practicing physical distancing, healthcare workers have the herculean task of taking care of patients with a highly infectious and novel disease that we have no idea how to treat or cure.
It is unthinkable that they should also have to worry about having enough protective equipment. Without an adequate PPE supply, healthcare workers are at substantially higher risk of acquiring COVID-19. They will have to reuse single use equipment and trial unconventional methods of infection control. They will have to deviate from their donning and doffing training to adjust to what hospitals have, not practice as they have been trained.
There is also the accompanying stress they bear that they could also unknowingly pass the virus onto patients, colleagues, and their families.
I can’t attend classes and my regular research is on hold. I’m not a doctor and can’t help out on the front lines like my research mentors are. But I needed to do something to help.
With the help of my friend and fellow undergraduate student Emmy Luo, I put together #GetMePPE Ontario – a fundraiser to supply PPE directly to healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients. With global supply chains overwhelmed, we needed to get creative to source usable supplies. We have partnered with Makerwiz, a 3D-printing company based right here in Richmond Hill, to procure reusable face shields designed with input from ER physicians.
Many hospitals are rolling out protocols to disinfect and reuse disposable shields as we speak. While the safety of this practice remains to be seen, 3D printed face shields are a potential safe alternative to this practice.
We launched our campaign on April 7th, and have raised $3355 in addition to $1650 from in-kind donations to date. We have already made a donation of 110 face shields to Hamilton Health Sciences; we are looking to make future donations to other high-risk environments like long-term care homes.
We have been stunned by the incredible generosity and kindness of our community in supporting this cause. These donations will hopefully help to provide healthcare workers with the appropriate equipment and to ease their concerns about PPE supply as they continue to provide patient care.
But our work is far from over. There is still a substantial shortage of PPE in Ontario and we want to continue to help. In order to do so, we need YOUR help. Please consider donating to our fundraiser, or one of the many others out there that are part of this immensely important effort. With your help, we can do our best to ensure that our healthcare workers are safe.
When this pandemic began to wreak its havoc on the world, healthcare workers stepped up to protect us all. None of these brave individuals should have to worry about whether they have the necessary equipment to protect themselves.