San Francisco Medical Students Collecting Masks For Local Hospitals

As shortages mount, they are asking the public to help replenish protective equipment during the coronavirus outbreak.

With a national shortage of personal protective equipment – such as N95 respiratory masks and regular surgical masks – UCSF medical students have organized donation drives to accept equipment from the public. Students will be at 18th and Dolores streets from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. through at least Sunday, they say.

“We’re hoping to engage the community and protect our medical professionals on the front line,” says Francis Wright, a third-year medical student.

The public may have N95 masks left over from wildfire season, or they may have purchased masks at the start of the outbreak before it was clear there was going to be a shortage, Wright says.

Supplies of PPE at UCSF Medical Center and hospitals around the country have been dwindling.

“We were already starting to limit the number of times we went into a patient’s room, because we didn’t have enough supplies,” says Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease doctor and professor at UCSF. “We’ve been dealing with a huge shortage for the last two weeks or so.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published guidelines this week saying bandannas and scarves could be used as a last resort when facemasks are not available.

“I was shocked by that. I was blown over,” Chin-Hong says. “It will give you some protections, but it is foolhardy.”

That message from the CDC prompted Chin-Hong to put the call out for students to mobilize.

The students – who normally would be taking part in a clinical rotation this time of year – were already out of school because the American Association of Medical Colleges asked medical schools to suspend students participating in clinical settings until April 1, Chin-Hong says.

ANYTHING HELPS Medical students are asking the public to donate any medical masks they may have to help with efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“So far, the response has been really positive,” Hunter Jackson, a UCSF medical student, told SF Weekly Friday afternoon. “We’ve probably gotten over 100 masks donated in the couple hours we’ve been here today, and tons of people are asking how they can help.”

Jackson said he was on a conference call Friday with a dozen or so other UCSF students who are working on setting up more donation sites throughout the city in the coming days.

While accepting donations, the students made it clear they’re being mindful of social distancing.

“We’re here in a little six-by-six marked off area,” Jackson says. “We’re only staffing with a couple medical students at a time.”

Wright says donations may need to be sanitized before being used, and that unopened boxes are best – however, they’re taking “anything and everything right now because the shortage is that bad.”

Separately, a spreadsheet has been circulating with specific requests from Bay Area hospitals, and how the public can donate protective equipment to them directly.

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