We have been celebrating Covid-19 heroes in various categories for the last several issues. Here, gathered from sources all over, are people and groups in many areas who are lending their energy and time to help others.
Chris Gregoire is a former Washington governor. At the very beginning of the pandemic, she reached out to members of the business community and created a science-based strategy that saw some of the biggest corporations – some of them in competition with each other – working side by side to tackle the problem, slow the spread and maintain the health of the citizens.
The Sanitation Workers
Their jobs are already hazardous enough, working as they do with everyone else’s waste. But all over the world many have been reassigned to clean quarantine centers and care for Covid-19 patients. In Bangladesh, Rajib is a municipal waste worker for half his day, and a hospital cleaner the other half. This includes emptying septic tanks, often without proper protection. He does it not only for the local citizens, but also to feed his own family. “I do fear death, but I hate hunger the most,” he says. He is often exposed to potentially-infected victims, and has to come in contact with frequently-touched surfaces. Handwashing stations are rare, and PPE is in short supply, so he does this at increased risk.
The Hospital Disinfecting Staff
Although we think of doctors, nurses, technicians and first responders as the front line of healthcare work, there are others supporting their efforts. Among them are the staff who keep the hospitals and clinics clean and safe.
At Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital, Environmental Services Supervisor Mary Waller had high praise for her team. “It never stops. Every day. Every hour of the day, 24 hours a day. The hospital is open 24/7 — it never closes, and we know we clean.” She supervises more than 80 hospital staff members who all work to disinfect. And they also have to follow CDC and hospital standards, especially with Covid-19 patients. “Not just environmental services, but our nurses and doctors — everybody. We’re all a team and our goal is to keep our patients safe,” Waller said.
MasksOn.org started early in the crisis to design a modified snorkeling mask in an effort to provide PPE to frontline healthcare workers.Executive Director Sanjay Vakil is a senior product manager in software development at Google. He learned about two anesthesiologists Alex Stone and Jacqueline Boehme, working at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to adapt a snorkeling mask into protective gear for healthcare workers. Vakil brought in another Google product manager, Eugene Mann, and together they gathered Google engineers and experts in CAD and drafting to tackle the task. Although these were not people experienced in medical devices, they rose to the challenge. Eventually they were joined by Devon Campbell, Founder of Prodct as well as CPO, Head of R&D, MyBiometry. They were attracted to the snorkeling equipment because it covers from the top of the forehead to underneath the chin. The snorkel sticks out the back to help you breathe. Substituting an adapter for the snorkel, they had a filtered mechanism that provides ideal protection. Working long shifts, they devised a remarkably efficient iteration process, using 3D printed versions of the adapters.
The Medical Device Manufacturer
Although Velentium usually works on a number of products as a contract manufacturer for medical devices, in March of 2020 they were focusing exclusively on ventilators. The company put their energies into helping a client, Ventec, a medical device company, The goal was to scale production of its ventilators from a few hundred units a month to 10,000. To enhance Ventec’s capacity, General Motors offered its parts plant in Kokomo, Indiana. Velentium’s job was to test 30,000 ventilators, and ensure GM’s engineers, who had never built such a device before, were equal to the task. Over five hectic weeks beginning in March, the 48-person team (now 70-plus) worked with trusted suppliers, themselves hindered by lockdowns, to source critical components, ship them cross-country to four manufacturing facilities, and meet their tough goals. Velentium’s 141 test systems were essentially “half the [Kokomo] plant, not by real estate but by functionality,” says Velentium chief executive Dan Purvis. “It was about eight months’ worth of work that we did in six weeks.”
From Bill Gates:
The Community Advocates
Native American populations, especially on reservations, often lack the means and the expertise to access the best care in difficult situations. On the Navajo and Hopi Reservations, Ethel Branch was alarmed that her community didn’t have what it needed to deal with the virus. With a large contingent of elderly, who often don’t have electricity or running water, help was needed immediately in this crisis. Ethel, a former attorney general for the Navajo Nation, resigned from her job at a law firm. She created a GoFundMe page and built an organization called Navajo Hopi Solidarity to help bring relief to the elderly, single parents, and struggling families. To date, she has raised over $5 million.
From Novant Health:
The First Person You See
Rayvon Mitchell, a certified nursing assistant, works at Novant Health Derrick L. Davis Cancer Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. For the last five years, Mitchell has worked as a curbside assistant, greeting patients and their families with a hug, high-five and cheerful grin. “I call myself the nurse at the door,” he said.
Of course, this became more problematic during the pandemic. But Mitchell is dedicated to doing “everything for the glory of God and I want to honor him with the way I love on others.”
So, even in this social distancing atmosphere, when his patients still need to have their regular cancer treatments, he observes the new safety precautions but still communicates his welcoming attitude.
“That’s why my wife and I made this sign: ‘Corona made me stop hugging you, but God knows I still love you.’” he said. “I still want people to feel loved and cared for. And I want them to know that they are not fighting alone.”
The University Protectors
From phone dispatchers to patrol officers, some 300 USC Department of Public Safety staff members keep an eye out for remaining students, essential employees and neighbors around USC’s campuses. During the pandemic, these USC heroes teamed up with USC University Relations and the Los Angeles Police Department to distribute much-needed food, supplies and books to families in the neighborhoods surrounding the university.
“These are trying times for everyone,” DPS Chief John Thomas said. “There is nothing worse for a parent in a time like this than having kids and not being able to feed them.”
After Thomas received over 500 books from the Los Angeles Literacy Club, the activity really took off. “We wanted to do something, collaboratively with the LAPD, that builds community and strengthens the relationship between DPS, the police and the university,” he said. They identified families in need, people out of work and kids are at home. The drive received food from the Sam Simon Foundation, and critical sanitary supplies were donated by the Keck School of Medicine of USC.
While the majority of the bags distributed were designated for families in need, older residents in the area also received care packages from USC and the LAPD, according to Thomas.