Community rallies to donate medical supplies for hospital shortages
Nicole Tian, Reporter Alice Feng, N.Z., May Shiu, Lei Jiang, Chunlai Yang Bay Area volunteers sew, print, and donate protective equipment for doctors and nurses
Photos provided by Alice Feng and May Shiu
The sudden impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially difficult for healthcare workers, who lack personal protective equipment (PPE) — such as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved masks — that allow them to safely perform their jobs.
“We’re supposed to use [surgical masks] only once, and then just throw it away. But for the past few weeks, we have been using one a day, and for some of the staffs, even use one for three days,” Lei Jiang, a Physician Assistant who works at Washington Hospital in Fremont, said. “This is not right…but the thing is, we really appreciate the community help, and yesterday, we got a big donation from the community, we got 500 surgical masks, so we appreciate that.”
These surgical masks came from various members of the community, who either donated their own supplies or purchased products from China. According to Jiang, once the hospital receives masks, the medical facility first examines the quality of the donated masks.FDA approved masks are permitted for use in hospitals, and equipment that followCDC measures, which are broader than the FDA regulations, are authorized for clinical work. Industry-level or N95 masks manufactured by 3M and China’s KN95 masks are acceptable.
Many community members leverage their special connection with China to procure masks for hospital shortages. 10,000 masks alone are coming from N. Z.* in China, whose family in the Bay Area reached out to him for protective equipment. Early encounters with the coronavirus in many Chinese cities demonstrated therapid spread of the virus along with the need for facemasks on the front lines. By coordinating with a friend in international trading logistics, N.Z. was able to purchase face masks from Chinese factories, which had developed an efficient system of transporting materials during their experience with the outbreak, and transported the materials to California within days.
Dr. Chunlai Yang became involved when he received a call from his daughter three weeks ago. She works at a hospital in San Francisco, which had sent a message to its doctors and nurses asking them to reach out for protective equipment. Yang donated all 10 of his masks, though he was saddened that he was not able to provide more support. He decided to write a message to his WeChat groups, seeking help from the Chinese American community. This initiative quickly gained traction, and volunteers were able to proffer a few hundred face masks.
In addition to purchasing and donating surgical masks, households with 3D printers are printing face shields. The Harker School sophomore and Bay Area resident Alice Feng joined in this work with Hongyun Art Studio in Cupertino and the larger organization Maker Nexus, which is distributing filemodels for 3D printed face shields approved by hospitals. The Czech company Prusa Research began this initiative and verified their originalprototypes with the Czech government. Their designs have been modified to expedite the printing process. So far, Alice has printed 35 face shields at a rate of about 3 to 4 a day.
“A lot of hospitals really need personal protection equipment in general, and [Hongyun Art Studio] was providing solutions on how the normal person [MOU4] could help, and their solution was the 3D printers,” Alice said. “They’re pretty impressive, and you can make them at home, so that was how I was inspired to start making face masks.”
These shields often serve as an extra layer of protection for doctors on top of N95 masks and goggles. Each face shield is composed of two 3D printed parts and a visor made out of laminate sheet or a transparent projector film. The headband and bottom reinforcement, which take about a total of four hours to print, are then clipped into the shield with hole punching. 
After the volunteer has filled out thisform to drop off face shields, they can mail the products to a Maker Nexus collection site at 234 E. Caribbean Drive in Sunnyvale, sealed in a plastic bag labeled with an email address, the name of the prototype, the materials used and the date the bag was sealed.
Hospitals that have received such donations include the Kaiser Permanente San Jose and Fremont Medical Centers as well as the San Francisco Chinese Hospital.
“I think in general, doctors are just really appreciative of any personal protection equipment that they can get,” Alice said. “I’ve gotten a few photos of doctors wearing their face shields, which is really cool…I think we can really use this time to try and make an effort to support coronavirus relief programs.”
Volunteers are also producing cotton masks worn over N95 masks to prolong their use. They are modeled after traditional blue surgical masks and can be made with a sewing machine or hand sewn. May Shiu, a Bay Area resident who picked up on this project, found the idea circulating around WeChat groups. Despite not having prior experience, Shiu took on the challenge and learned how to make masks by buying DIY kits from Joann Fabrics. She now is able to sew five every half an hour. Over the last two weeks, she has made 186 masks, most of which were donated to Kaiser Permanente.
“Yesterday, I had a friend tell me I helped make 30 face masks that had already been sent to the Stanford Hospital,” Shiu said. “I think that I make my own contribution with my own power.”
While in line to purchase cloth for the face masks, Shiu encountered a stranger working on a similar project, who offered to pay for both of their materials, leaving her touched. Her friends have also suggested the same.
“[My friends] say that we don’t know how to make [the face masks], but you do, so we donate some money for you to buy the fabric,” Shiu said. “I told them that they don’t have to, because it’s not an easy time for anyone, so I just make what I can.”
If you think you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center and Stanford medicine are providing testing centers for patients with a doctor’s referral, and the Hayward Fire Station 7 and the Fremont Fire Tactical Training are open without need of a referral. All four centers perform drive thru centers. Patients are advised to be tested at facilities outside of hospitals in order to minimize the risk of exposure to the virus.
The interview with May Shiu was conducted in Mandarin and translated into English.
*This source asked to be identified by initials for privacy