According to a February report from the Mecklenburg County Health Department, 25 to 35% of local health-care providers could fall ill as a direct result of the coronavirus outbreak by the time it’s all said and done, and with projections from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicting the virus to peak locally in two weeks, there’s still some time to further prepare. Based on what’s happened in New York in recent weeks, some medical practitioners worry that a lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE, could contribute to the spread of the virus inside of health-care facilities. One group in Charlotte is hoping to change that.
Late last month, Dr. Sheila Natarajan launched CLTgivePPE, a grassroots movement hoping to help health care workers combat coronavirus through a PPE donation drive. Natarajan, an outpatient physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, witnessed colleagues struggle with the outbreak and the dwindling supply of PPE.
“We realized the magnitude of the shortage,” Natarajan told Queen City Nerve in a phone interview. “We had all been watching the numbers, and we knew it was only gonna get worse from there.”
Natarajan found that the covered N95 masks that offered the best protection from COVID-19 were being used exclusively for high-risk procedures such as intubations, while other health-care workers were left with less effective surgical masks.
So she reached out to some colleagues and suggested they begin asking for donations: N95 masks, disinfectant, disposable gloves and other necessary medical supplies. Natarajan posted a video to Facebook, encouraging others to look through their garages, attics and homes for donations.
She then learned about a prefabricated, reusable, nonporous, filtered respirator mask that conforms to the face and which she believed to provide much safer protection than the surgical masks. Natarajan set up a GoFundMe and put a drop box in front of her house. In the span of a week, contributions of both money and PPE piled up.
“One by one,” she said, “it started gaining momentum.”
Tracey Ratté, longtime coworker of Natarajan and volunteer with the new venture, agreed. She leads a team of 150 volunteers who sew surgical gowns, masks and headbands for health-care workers, with new volunteers emailing daily
“It’s been fast and furious,” Ratté said. “Every time I open my computer, there are more emails and more calls.”
Along with the surge in volunteers and donations came support from various Charlotte organizations and businesses. Atrium Health, Novant Health and the Mecklenburg County Health Department have all partnered with CLTgivePPE.
Goodwill Industries of South Piedmont re-opened two Charlotte-area locations and provided staff to collect donations on site. There will be donation drives this afternoon — Thursday, April 2 — from noon to 4 p.m. at the Goodwill locations on Wilkinson Boulevard in west Charlotte and Lancaster Highway in the Ballantyne area.
Other community figures are promoting the donation drives: Elizabeth Star-Winer, trustee for the Winer Family Foundation, has thrown her support behind the movement, stating in a press release, “The importance of our community rallying together to support our frontline workers is at a pivotal point in our fight against COVID-19. The PPE donation drive can literally help to save lives with masks, gloves and gowns so our healthcare providers can focus on patient care.”
N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson also voiced his support by posting CLTgivePPE’s flyer to Facebook on March 30.
Amalia Juchnik, CLTgivePPE’s media coordinator, marketing volunteer and social media guru, heard about the organization through word-of-mouth. After being laid off from her job in real estate, she had been looking for a way to give back while job searching and social distancing with her two young children.
“It has been a very pleasant distraction,” she said in a phone interview. “I am putting in my full force behind it. I don’t go to sleep till 12, 1, 2 in the morning. I’m throwing whatever I can behind this.”
Juchnik, a Charlotte resident for seventeen years, hopes to see participation from the rest of the city grow in the coming weeks. “What I would love out of this movement, other than donations and support, is for people to take ownership of the city they live in … If you need to take a stand and support something, why not this? Your community is here.”
Overall, CLTgivePPE organizers urge Charlotte to take COVID-19 seriously and keep donating.
“If we lose our front line, we just won’t make it as a community,” Natarajan said.
She also encouraged people to show up for their medical practitioners in any way they can: “Their lives have been so massively disrupted.”
But there’s always room for hope, particularly with the outpouring of community support the CLTgivePPE has seen.
As Juchnik concluded, “To show what six women who have no formal education whatsoever in creating a movement can do for our city — I can only imagine if that multiplied.”
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