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Alumni In China Lead Effort To Procure PPE For Medical Workers In New York

Hospitals are facing widespread shortages of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for health care workers. Columbia University alumni associations are raising money to purchase much needed N95 masks, seen here, gowns and other gear.

Thomas E. Lo is an anesthesiologist who works at Montefiore Nyack Hospital in New York. Since the coronavirus outbreak, his job has gotten dangerous.

"The exposure risk as an anesthesiologist is extremely high because when we intubate a patient, we are literally less than a foot away from the patient, who is in distress, and we're right by their airway, which is where the virus is," Lo tells All Things Considered.

And that exposure risk is made worse by widespread shortages of crucial personal protective equipment, or PPE, like masks, gowns and gloves.

Lo is trying to help fix that. He is also president of Columbia University's Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons Alumni Association. It has chapters in many places, including China.

Alumni there saw what was happening in New York and wanted to do something to help.

So, several weeks ago, Lo reached out to medical providers in New York City and asked what they needed.

"Within 24 hours, I had dozens of emails," he says. They were in desperate need of PPE like N95 masks, gowns and face shields.

He conveyed these needs to members of the alumni association. Since then, more than $1 million in cash and equipment has poured in from more than 200 donors across Columbia's alumni network.

At least 11,000 N95 masks have already been purchased. And supplies are already showing up at some of New York's hardest hit hospitals, such as Elmhurst in Queens.

To Lo, the most inspiring thing about the effort is seeing the outpouring of support from Columbia's and other alumni associations in China — especially at a time when fear over the virus has led to increased prejudice.

"There has been a lot of bad sentiment towards Asian Americans, or the Chinese, which is completely misinformation. And here we have a grassroots effort led by the Columbia alumni association in China, pulling together their resources to get donations to purchase PPE to send to the United States."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 8, 0020 at 12:03 AM EST
A previous summary of this story incorrectly stated that Columbia University's medical school alumni association raised more than $1 million for PPE for medical providers in New York. In fact, the money was raised by alumni from across the university.

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