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The highly contagious coronavirus seems to be coming under control in parts of China, with the number of new COVID-19 patients reported yesterday to be the lowest in two months. But in Wuhan, patients still have serious medical needs that require continued support.
Yiming Ma, a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara, hears about it firsthand from his father, who is in contact with potential patients almost daily as a volunteer who tests people’s temperatures at community checkpoints. “I’m really far away from Wuhan, and not every piece of information is transparent, so I’m not sure how accurate the information I’m getting about the situation there really is,” said Ma about the lockdown on his hometown.
Ma and fellow grad students in UCSB’s East Asian Languages department are part of a group called the Coronavirus Relief Efforts (C<3RE) that raised more than $5,000, largely through a bake sale, to send life-saving supplies to Wuhan. “I think it is part of our responsibility as Chinese international students to act since we heard the news first,” said Yu Liu a grad student in UCSB’s History Department, adding that she was touched by faculty, students, and staffers’ “sympathy for others they have never met and with communities they have never heard of.” The funds could purchase 2,000 antiviral face masks.
Liu began getting emergency messages as early as January 24, and her advisor, Professor Xiaowei Zheng, soon learned that hospitals were within days of running out of medical supplies. They were also seeing at Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo that shipments were intercepted, sold, or rejected, said Pat Fryberger, a grad student in East Asian Languages, who uses the sites to talk with his wife in China. With Wuhan and other cities in China on lockdown, they knew it would be extremely difficult to ship anything over borders.
They looked to Direct Relief to get the supplies to Wuhan, counting on the nonprofit’s previous efforts in Wuhan. “They sent us pictures of supplies actually getting there,” said Fryberger, “which was really meaningful.” Since January, Direct Relief has provided 35 tons of personal protective equipment to safeguard workers at more than 60 health facilities in areas with confirmed cases of COVID-19, most often in China.
Direct Relief has since committed $2 million to bolster its emergency supplies in the U.S. fight against coronavirus. From what it learned in the China effort, Direct Relief spokesperson Tony Morain said, the nonprofit made an initial purchase of 500 portable oxygen concentrators, anticipated for U.S. patients needing supplemental oxygen. To protect health workers on the front lines — close to 15 percent of the severe or critical cases in China were health-care personnel — Direct Relief has in reserve a half million N95 masks and other protective gear.