AUSTIN (KXAN) – Researchers and professors at colleges and universities in central Texas are collecting personal protective equipment (PPE) from their science and medical labs for donation to local doctors and nurses who need it to protect themselves from the COVID-19.
Classes on campus are canceled for the remainder of the semester at all major institutions in the region, meaning students are not there to use gloves, masks, gowns, and other PPE. Doctors and nurses, meanwhile, lack essential equipment to prevent them from becoming infected with the novel coronavirus.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday reiterated the state’s ‘aggressive’ efforts to procure more PPE, but many doctors fear there is still not enough for everyone, exposing workers primary health care at risk of contracting the virus.
âThis is a time when we all need to take care of each other,â said Dr. Gaye Lynn Scott, associate vice president for academic programs at Austin Community College.
About 6,700 ACC students are taking biology or chemistry classes this semester, she said, but they won’t need any of the school’s PPE to take the online classes for the rest. of the semester. “That’s a lot of labs and a lot of disposable gloves.”
A rough tally earlier this week counted 65,000 disposable gloves that the community college system is now prepared to give to central Texas healthcare workers, in addition to boxes of gowns, glasses and other PPE.
Other universities in the region have also mobilized to provide assistance.
St. Edward’s University Biology and Chemistry Laboratories have collected more than 27,000 gloves, the equivalent of 136 boxes, and the school is seeking other departments. Texas State University’s Round Rock Campus Physiotherapy Department has donated 300 surgical masks while other university departments are collecting their own donations.
The ACC got the idea from another school in Austin, Huston-Tillotson University, which said it was working with the University of Texas at Austin to wrangle over PPE donations.
At least five UT colleges are participating, with dozens of scientists scouring their labs for any unused protective gear. But UT’s donations don’t stop at PPE.
More than masks
Scientists at UT have many chemicals and laboratory equipment that are used to test for COVID-19. Over 40 researchers have started a shared Google spreadsheet to list over 100 individual donations of chemical reagents, pipette tips, biosafety cabinets, and other supplies that can be donated if and when needed for increase testing capabilities.
âMuch of the research on campus has been closed, so being able to help is something I think a lot of people are thankful for,â said Dr. Annalee Nguyen, associate researcher in the Department of Chemical Engineering at UT.
Nguyen also had a contact at a local company making and shipping COVID-19 test kits. She let graduate and undergraduate students know that the business needed workers. More than 100 volunteered to take over the scientific work.
“As we train them,” she explained, “we are preparing them not only to be scientifically ready, but to be the type of people who will go out there and tackle these things.”
Colleges and universities see it as their duty to help in any way they can, even when switching from hands-on classes to online settings. âAlmost everyone I know is up for it all,â Nguyen said. “It makes you feel like you really care about each other.”
Scott strives to extend the reach of the donation network beyond biology and chemistry to the CCA’s health sciences programs. The next two months will be an adjustment for professors accustomed to lab settings, she said, but the payoff is reducing the risk for some of their graduates.
âCCA has trained many nurses who are on the front lines,â Scott said. âSo we’re happy to be able to do it. “