AUSTIN (KXAN) — Researchers and professors at colleges and universities in Central Texas are collecting personal protective equipment (PPE) from their science and medical labs to donate to local doctors and nurses who need it to protect themselves from COVID-19.
On-campus classes are cancelled for the rest of the semester at all major institutions in the area, which means students aren’t there to use the gloves, masks, gowns and other PPE. Doctors and nurses, meanwhile, are running out of the equipment critical to preventing them from becoming infected with the new coronavirus.
Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday reiterated the state’s “aggressive” efforts to procure more PPE, but many doctors fear there will still not be enough to go around, putting front-line healthcare workers at risk of contracting the virus.
“This is a time where we all need to take care of each other,” 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 courses this semester, she said, but they won’t need any of the school’s PPE to complete online coursework for the remainder of the semester. “That’s a lot of labs and a lot of disposable gloves.”
A rough count earlier this week tallied 65,000 disposable gloves the community college system is now prepared to donate to central Texas healthcare workers in addition to boxes of gowns, goggles and other PPE.
Other universities in the area are stepping up to help, too.
St. Edward’s University’s biology and chemistry labs collected more than 27,000 gloves, equivalent to 136 boxes, and the school is reaching out to other departments for more. The physical therapy department at Texas State University’s Round Rock campus donated 300 surgical masks while other university departments gather donations of their own.
ACC got the idea from another Austin school, Huston-Tillotson University, which said it was working with the University of Texas at Austin to wrangle PPE donations.
At least five colleges within UT are participating, with dozens of scientists scouring their labs for any unused protective equipment. But UT’s donations don’t stop at PPE.
More than masks
Scientists at UT have a lot of chemicals and lab equipment that are used to test for COVID-19. More than 40 researchers started a shared Google spreadsheet to catalog more than 100 individual donations of chemical reagents, pipette tips, biosafety cabinets and other supplies that can be donated if and when they’re needed to ramp up testing capabilities.
“Much of the research on campus has been closed down, so being able to help is something that I think a lot of people are grateful for,” said Dr. Annalee Nguyen, a research associate with UT’s Department of Chemical Engineering.
Nguyen also had a contact at a local company making and shipping COVID-19 test kits. She put the word out to graduate and undergraduate students that the company needed workers. More than 100 volunteered to take on the scientific work.
“As we train them,” she explained, “we’re getting them ready not only to be scientifically ready, but to be the type of people who will jump in and go after these things.”
The colleges and universities see it as their duty to help in any way they can, even as they transition hands-on course to online settings. “Pretty much everyone I know is ready to jump in,” Nguyen said. “It makes you feel like you are really looking out for each other.”
Scott is working to expand the reach of the donation network past biology and chemistry to the health sciences programs at ACC. The next couple months will be an adjustment for professors accustomed to lab settings, she said, but the reward is reducing the risk for some of their graduates.
“ACC has trained many of the nurses that are out there on the front lines,” Scott said. “So we’re happy to be able to do this.”