Volunteers unloading PPE at UW surplus
Dennis Wise
Volunteers unloading donated PPE at UW surplus.

In times of extreme duress, a shining beacon of hope can come from communities working together to support one another. The University of Washington Medical Center, in preparation for an influx of patients in the coming weeks, recently put out a call for medical supplies. Researchers from around the College of the Environment answered that call, realizing that much of what the Medical Center needed were common items found in research labs, and quickly mobilized to collect donations and drop them off at UW Surplus.

School of Oceanography’s Shelly Carpenter alerted all of her Oceanography colleagues about the request for supplies when she saw an email calling for donations, including personal protective equipment (PPE). She was able to gather around 6,600 disposable gloves and numerous goggles for the Medical Center from just two buildings.

Another Oceanography researcher heeded the call as well. “At the time, hardly anyone was still coming in to do work in the Ocean Sciences Building. But I was still doing lab work, so I wrote the various lab managers and professors I knew around the building to say I could gather up any materials they wanted to donate and take them over,” said Matthew Wolhowe. “We’re all small labs with small numbers of employees and students, though. I know there are much larger labs all over campus, so if they can chip in as well, hopefully, we can really help the Med Center.”

It is important to note that although 6,600 sounds like a lot of gloves, that supply goes fast in a typical health worker’s shift.

Sarah Converse
Boxes of donated PPE from SAFS faculty.

A similar community effort was happening over at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS). SAFS faculty doing lab work came together and collected roughly 10,000 gloves, as well as other supplies like masks, disinfecting wipes and even a genotyping machine that can be used for coronavirus testing.

When asked what inspired this group effort, SAFS faculty member Sarah Converse said, “my sister is a physician assistant working as a primary care provider in Detroit, and I am keenly aware that she is now working with patients who are positive and doesn’t have adequate PPE in her clinic. It is scary for her and her family. Hopefully, we all remember that health care workers need to be kept safe because they are the ones putting themselves on the front line. And on top of it, if they are ill, we are all in much, much more trouble.”

Up north, employees at Friday Harbor Laboratories in the San Juan Islands also coordinated efforts to supply their local health care workers with extra gloves, masks and gowns. San Juan County currently is not experiencing a medical surge but is planning for one, so this PPE is ready to go. Professor Adam Summers’ lab has also 3D printed 70 face shields which have been sent to hospitals further away that can use them now.

Back on the UW Seattle campus, Wolhowe encourages lab managers to check their reserves for any masks, face shields and gloves that are unused while most of the University is working remotely. “The gloves, masks and face shields certainly aren’t doing us any good while we work from home.”

PPE donation site at UW Surplus.
Dennis Wise
PPE donation site at UW Surplus.

Both Converse and Wolhowe noted the ease of donating supplies at UW Surplus, and emphasized the gratitude and excitement they were met with. “The fellow who helped me unload the gear over at UW Surplus seemed very excited by the modest quantity of equipment I brought over, and called it a ‘bounty’”, noted Wolhowe.

UW Medical Center is still accepting sealed, unopened donations of disposable face masks (all types, including N95 masks), clear face shields, clear safety/medical glasses or goggles, powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) systems, exam and surgical gloves, isolation gowns, disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer.

NOTE: As of April 6, 2020, UW does not have any policies in place allowing for the donation of resources procured from awarded grants to COVID-19 efforts. Sponsors must provide approval for any donations, and costs of donated supplies purchased using National Science Foundation funds must currently be credited from an account for which equipment donations are an allowed expense pending agency approval. Please check the UW post-award fiscal compliance page for more information on how to donate supplies purchased with fund money.