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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Chinese students, parents and alumni are shipping respirators, masks and other PPE from China to Grinnell

Illustration by Zoe Fruchter.

In response to a national shortage of the medical equipment needed to fight COVID-19, the city of Grinnell’s supply of Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) has come not only from within the United States, but also from the efforts of Chinese international students and alumni working to purchase and ship equipment to Grinnell.

At the beginning of spring break, Xinya Yang ’20 began reaching out to friends who had returned home to China after the College closed its campus to ask them to send her PPE to distribute to Grinnell medical workers. She knew that in China PPE is easier to buy, both because much of the world’s supply of masks, coveralls and other infection-preventing equipment is manufactured there, and because, according to the Chinese government, the COVID-19 outbreak in the country is now under control.

Yang decided to source equipment from China when New York City health officials began recommending that people at high risk for contacting the virus should wear a cloth face covering to prevent transmission of COVID-19. She had stayed in Grinnell after campus closure due to visa restrictions and was disturbed at the fact that most people she saw were not wearing masks.

The city of Grinnell’s remote location and high population of people over 60 makes the city a high-risk location for a COVID-19 outbreak, making it especially vital that healthcare professionals have access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies needed to combat the virus.

“I thought, ‘OK, finally I can persuade professors I know to wear a face mask.’ But I also know that in the U.S., you just can’t buy it [PPE],” Yang said. She also knew many hospitals in the U.S. were undersupplied with medical equipment.

Before people in the United States began experiencing major disruptions to daily life due to the virus, Yang had sent some PPE items to China, so she was already familiar with which kinds of equipment were useful for medical providers and which were not, as well as where to find and distribute instructions on how to use the equipment safely.

When some of the friends she’d contacted agreed to send equipment, Yang started looking for more contacts who could increase the scale of the project. She said that she sent a message to a group chat of Chinese international students at Grinnell to ask if anyone had connections who could help.

“That’s how it started,” she said.

Yang also contacted professors and administrators who she thought might be able to help. Karen Edwards, associate dean and director of international affairs for the College, had been receiving calls and emails from other parents and alumni in China, asking if they could help the situation in Grinnell. Edwards connected Yang with Jack Xing ’23, president of the Chinese Student Association (CSA) at Grinnell, who had become the student contact for those in China interested in sending PPE.

Xing said that Chinese international students and their parents feel obliged to help in the effort “because the Grinnell community has always been good to international students, and we wanted to do something for them also.”

Now, the two students have combined their efforts, and around 150 Grinnell alumni living in China and parents of Chinese international students have either donated money to a crowdfunding effort to buy PPE or sent equipment directly to Grinnell. They have raised over 10,000 dollars. The equipment being collected for distribution includes coveralls, goggles, face shields and the all-important masks – N95 and KN95 respirators, as well as a large number of surgical masks.

Edwards says that she’s seen the effort to send PPE to Grinnell mirrored in efforts by international students and alumni at other colleges. “I don’t think we’re alone,” she said.

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