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Chinese students respond to supply shortages throughout hospitals in Wuhan City in the midst of coronavirus outbreak

| Friday, January 31, 2020

The outbreak of coronavirus has killed 213 people and sickened 9,720 in China as of Jan. 30, according to the People’s Daily, the largest official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

The epidemic began in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei Province. Cases of the virus have since turned up in 19 countries, including the United States where six people have been diagnosed. On Thursday night, the State Department issued a travel advisory telling Americans to avoid traveling to China because of the health risks of the outbreak.

Diane Park

Hospitals in Wuhan are facing a severe shortage of medical supplies, including N95 respirator masks, protection suits, goggles and coronavirus testing kits. Posts from doctors requesting donations are widely spreading on the internet, and some Chinese students at Notre Dame are responding with help.

Yizhi Hu, who graduated from the Department of Political Science in 2019, established the donation network with a group of volunteer students and alumni from Notre Dame, the University of Chicago and other schools in the Greater Chicago Area. The network is comprised of logistics, procurement, communication with suppliers and hospitals, publicity and legal compliance, Hu said.

“We established this network so people who have resources can directly provide their help to hospitals,” she said. “If you have purchased medical supplies in America, we can help to contact international logistics channels. If you have a bunch of masks in China, we can ask voluntary truck teams to deliver them.”

The posts asking for support have been largely spread through Facebook, Instagram and WeChat, a Chinese messaging and social media app. The Chinese Students Association of Northwestern and University of Michigan helped spread the word.

“We unite everyone’s power together, so we are able to accomplish something that is hard for a single person to do,” Hu said.

As of Jan. 30, the group had raised $15,000 and delivered 50,000 N95 respirator masks and 1,500 protection suits to over 40 hospitals in Hubei Province. On Jan. 31, 150 goggles will be transported from Chicago to Shanghai, before being delivered to the Union Medical of Wuhan. The group plans to purchase and deliver more goggles.

The network was built up from scratch, Hu said, with the initial network coming together after a number of phone calls made to the staff of 40 hospitals in Wuhan.

In these phone calls, the group asked hospital staff to list the supplies they needed. They then worked with other groups and associations such as Wuhan Jiayou, (Chinese) International Students in North America and the China Chamber of Commerce to build the logistics channels to China from Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

In order to ensure the donations meet official standards, Hu said one of the team members listed the types of masks that fit within these standards. Notre Dame law student Wuyue Wang also helped with the process.

But the policies around receiving foreign donations are confusing and subject to change.

On Jan. 23, foreign donations were rejected, according to the Wuhan Headquarter of Prevention and Control of Coronavirus. But on Jan. 26, Wuhan Red-Cross announced that foreign donations was permitted and would be uniformly managed by Wuhan Red-Cross.

According to the China Youth Newspaper, hospitals forbid doctors from receiving donations.

“The government changes their policy every single day, and we have no idea when and in what identity our medical supplies are able to pass the custom,” Hu said. “In order to cope with this uncertainty, we ship our supplies to Guangzhou and Shanghai, and voluntary truck teams deliver them to Wuhan.”

Even the necessity of supplies is uncertain.

On Jan. 23, the governor of Hubei Province said the medical supplies in Wuhan were sufficient, while at the same time, large amounts of doctors were posting on social media about the severe shortage of medial supplies and urgently requesting donations.

Kay Xu, a member of the voluntary Chinese students group who graduated from Mendoza Business School in 2016, said that they directly contact doctors to avoid being affected by the lack of transparency from the Chinese government.

“All the demands are told by doctors or hospital staff in our chat groups on WeChat,” Xu said. “They are on the first line of battle. If they say it’s urgent, it’s urgent.”

When the first donations arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 26, the large hospitals found their supply shortages alleviated, Xu said. However, smaller hospitals and those outside of Wuhan were still severely lacking.

“That’s why our supplies are distributed to 40 hospitals to keep balance,” Xu said. “We know doctors are forbidden to receive donations but we have no choice. Wuhan Red-Cross is ineffective in distributing supplies and some volunteers don’t really trust it. Also, if we send supplies to the official department of hospitals, in some cases the official staff just put the supplies in a room, locked the door and doctors got nothing. Therefore, our strategy is sending supplies to specific doctors in specific hospitals.”

Although Notre Dame students and alumni are busy, they all try to set aside time to help, Hu said.

“I feel lucky about being in America, and thus I feel responsible to bring resources to China for people fighting against coronavirus,” Hu said. “I’m really, really painful when watching the news. It’s the Chinese New Year and the doctors don’t even have decent food to eat. They left their husbands, wives and kids, vying for going back to hospitals to rescue lives. It’s just so moving and so sad.”

Hu is originally from Wuhan, and currently works in Chicago. In order to dedicate enough time to set up and coordinate the donation network, her work has taken a back seat.

In the past few days, she said she has woken up to find around 2,000 messages about the donation network. She usually spends the whole day on the phone and goes to sleep at 1 a.m., at which time the volunteers living in China head to work.

“We had large progress but we are too tired to feel happy,” Hu said.

So far, most of the students engaging in the donation network are Chinese. Senior Betty Qi, a member of the Chinese voluntary students group, said that they hope more American students and departments of Notre Dame will get involved.

“Not only Chinese students, but Asian students … all the students and school departments can help us and reach out needed resources and get through this hard time together,” Qi said. “As a part of Notre Dame community, we should all contribute to create a caring environment.”

However, some Chinese students said they have experienced discrimination due to the outbreak of coronavirus in China.

In response to these experiences, Dennis Brown, University vice president for public affairs and communications said that “the University has been caring for our students from China, and encourage any students to reach out if additional support is needed. Any student who is experiencing or knows of any harassment and discrimination is strongly encouraged to file a report through speakup.nd.edu or the Office of Community Standards so that the University can assist and respond.”

The University does not believe there is public health risk to the campus at this time, Brown said in an email.

“University Health Service worked with Notre Dame International to identify recent students from Wuhan or travelers from the region, and then reached out proactively and confidentially to the relevant students with education and offers of support,” Brown said. ”International Student and Scholars Affairs staff is available as a resource for all international students, and they have referred any concerned students to appropriate campus resources.”

The University will not suspend next semester’s international programs to China at the moment, according to Michael Pippenger, the vice president and associate provost for internationalization.

“We are monitoring events closely to support our students, faculty and staff in this current moment,” Pippenger said in an email.

Don Bishop, the associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, said that the University “[does] not expect that this health issue will impact our recruitment and enrollment of students from China.”

“We do not expect to make admissions decisions with this issue affecting decisions,” Bishop said in an email.

Notre Dame International advises all travelers to avoid all travel to Hubei Province and reconsider any non-essential travel to mainland China in the near term given the fluidity of the outbreak and travel restrictions imposed by the Chinese government. Any student or staff member who returns from mainland China is advised to seek out a screening from University Health Services or the Notre Dame Wellness Center.

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