As California hospitals brace for what is expected to be the worst weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, UC Irvine medical students are holding community drives this week to collect donations of masks, sanitizer and other crucial supplies for the university’s medical staff.
They’re also helping by walking staff members’ dogs, babysitting and doing grocery shopping.
“There isn’t a shortage yet at UCI,” said Jaspal Bassi, a first-year medical student who helped organize the drives. “But they are occurring at hospitals around the nation and we want to prevent that from happening here.”
Collections began Monday and will be held from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday in the parking lot at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, 850 Health Sciences Road, Irvine.
Donations also will be accepted from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesday at 27702 Crown Valley Pkwy., Suite B, Ladera Ranch.
Bassi said social distancing is in effect and people can place items in bins or drop them off via drive-through.
Bassi organized the effort with about a half-dozen other first-year medical students from UCI. They’re receiving help from about 40 volunteer UCI med students.
“It’s a pretty unique challenge, because as a med student, you really want to help out as much as you can, but you are not equipped with the same knowledge and tools that our mentors and hospital staff have to work on the front lines,” Bassi said. “We are trying to help in any way we can.”
Megan Osborn, a UCI Health emergency room doctor, said the supplies collected by the students could be crucial in mid- to late April, when cases of the virus are expected to peak.
“We are feeling a little bit nervous about the future,” Osborn said. “We’ve been seeing what’s happening in New York. We are really nervous of what could be to come. ... We are concerned there could be a supply shortage if cases were to really increase.”
The students also are supporting staff members by walking their dogs, grocery shopping and babysitting to alleviate some of their stress and limit their exposure to the community, since medical workers are among the most prone to be exposed to the virus.
“I think healthcare workers in general have all faced similar struggles across the nation — short on supplies, short on personal protective equipment and huge patient loads as the virus grows,” Bassi said. “We’re just trying to mitigate exposure to everyone involved. That is what is really going to make the difference here.”
Osborn said hospital staff will be stretched thin over the next few weeks with additional shifts.
“Just being in the community is a risk, so if the students can help by relieving one more thing that healthcare workers have to do, it just makes their life so much easier,” Osborn said.
The public also can help by donating to the UCI Emergency Response Fund at UCIHealth.org/giving.