It began with conversations among neighbors and friends in Dallas and its suburbs, many with family in China or who grew up in and around Wuhan, ground-zero of COVID-19.
A friend shares a personal story about the head nurse of a central hospital in China who wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to her husband, a Chinese doctor who died of the coronavirus.
“When I saw her rush to her husband’s hearse, I burst into tears,” she writes in a blog.
As healthcare workers and first responders in the United States now clamor for protective gear in its own battle against a spreading worldwide pandemic, the group of friends is reaching back across the ocean to vendors in Asia for help.
In less than a week, the DFW Chinese American Relief for Epidemic (DFWCARE) raised more than $100,000 to purchase thousands of masks and gloves that have been donated to area hospitals, first responders and clinics in Dallas and its surrounding suburbs.
“We’re racing against time,” says Fuqin Liu, a professor for the Center for Global Nursing at Texas Woman’s University, who helped start the group. “This is serious and lives are at stake.”
She says healthcare workers at hospitals and clinics in the DFW area are already running out of supplies weeks ahead of what experts believe will be the peak of the spread in the Dallas area sometime in April. Some healthcare workers have reported reusing one mask for multiple patients, storing it in a plastic baggy between shifts.
On Sunday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will install 250 beds by Tuesday at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas, where as many as 1,400 beds could be housed as the state’s first pop-up hospital to treat coronavirus patients. Also on Sunday, President Trump extended federal social distancing for 30 days as the virus continues to spread.
Plano City Councilwoman Lily Bao is working with the DFWCARE group, which includes many from Plano. The group delivered 10,000 gloves, 200 face shields and 500 Level 3 surgical masks to Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in Plano.
Many of the supplies reach hospitals outside of the city. Supplies have also been donated to other area Baylor hospitals and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. A package was also sent to a doctor in New York, says Keren Wang, a member of the group.
With a third shipment of 2,000 goggles and 2,400 masks that was expected to arrive on Friday. the team is ready to reach out to more healthcare facilities on Monday, including more than 70 hospitals.
“The Chinese community is super vigilant with regards to the development of the Corona / COVID-19 virus outbreak because we have family members who are impacted,” Liu writes on the group’s website at dfwcare.org. “We know how easily it’s transmitted and how dangerous the situation is. We want to take proactive actions to protect the health and safety of our healthcare providers.”
In addition to vendors in China, VastMed, a vendor based in Grand Prairie, was able to take the group’s order last week and volunteers delivered 4,250 Level 3 masks, 800 face shields and 20,000 medical gloves.
Supplies are still tight, and requests are increasing, says Jing Zhang, the group’s spokesperson. She emphasizes that the group wants to expand and is inviting help from everyone, no matter their ethnicity or background.
“Alone, we can only do so little,” she says. “Together, we can do much more.”
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But the equipment can’t be purchased without monetary donations. She is asking foundations and businesses for help.
The largest donation came from the Allen-based J-Angel Foundation, which gave $50,000. Donations have come from residents of China as well. Money raised on its website dfwcare.org (no s) goes directly toward donations without any administrative costs.
“I know firsthand the damage this virus can do,” says the foundation’s CEO Jennifer Wang, who is from Wuhan. “It’s critical we work together fast to meet the growing needs here in Dallas.”
The key word is “fast,” says Yujian Yan, a Dallas supply chain executive and member of the group.
“We’re not talking about something that’s going to happen; healthcare workers already are low on supplies across the Dallas area,” he says. “We can’t just stand by and watch. We have to do something fast.”
Other groups are also lending a hand to first responders. Last week, the DFW Chinese Alliance, another group, issued protective masks, sanitizer, protective goggles and gloves to first responders at the Plano Police Department.
Those that are experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19 are being tested, department spokesman David Tilley says.
“Many of these items are difficult to come by right now so any help we can get to make sure our officers out there are kept safe is appreciated,” he says.
The DFWCARE group has also received donations of some homemade masks.
However, homemade masks cannot be accepted at this time based on current CDC guidelines, a spokeswoman for Medical City Hospital in Plano says. Collection bins were expected to be placed in front of the hospital last Friday for smaller donations of PPE, such as gloves and masks in original packaging.
Businesses that are interested in making a large donation (more than one pallet) of commercially manufactured personal protective equipment (PPE) can reach out to community@MedicalCityHealth.com.
Other residents and businesses are looking at other ways to help.
The three doctors and their staff with the Center for Executive Medicine in Plano, which offers telemedicine and health house visits for patients as needed as part of its practice, have been assembling a list of anesthesia machines in the North Texas area from places such as plastic surgery and minor surgery centers and ophthalmology offices.
The Food and Drug Administration has amended its regulatory policies to allow the machines, which help patients breathe during surgery, to be used during the COVID-19 crisis. It also allows modification of the devices to provide ventilation of multiple patients using one machine.
So far, the list has more than 50 possible sources for these devices and the center is asking for more leads, says Dr. Scott Yates, founder and president of the center.
“We hope it’s a waste of time and we don’t have to use them,” he says. “But we have to be prepared.