Alumni Step Up to COVID-19 Challenges

A county health officer, a supply firm CEO, a dentist, and others share how they're leading communities through the crisis

“Everything you’re doing is the first time you’ve done it.”

Physician Christopher Spitters, F10, health officer for the Snohomish (County) Health District in Everett, Washington (just north of Seattle), which was the first county in the United States to report a COVID-19 case

Christopher Spitters, at right. Photo: Snohomish Health DistrictChristopher Spitters, at right. Photo: Snohomish Health District

On Monday, January 20, when I got that phone call with the patient’s test results, my life changed. It’s been 110 percent COVID ever since.

I had to stand with the secretary of health and the governor to give the bad news at a press conference. It was almost an out-of-body experience, like, “Oh, I can’t believe this is happening—but it really is happening, so sharpen up and stay on message.”

For twenty years I’ve worked as a tuberculosis physician in Seattle. I was filling in for the health officer part-time when this occurred. I ended up dropping all my other work and becoming the permanent full-time health officer.

I work with all the agencies and health care providers for a coordinated response, oversee the process for adequate and just procurement and distribution of personal protective equipment, and enforce the public health regulations at the local level.

It’s overwhelming at times. It’s a huge intellectual and organizational challenge. Everything you’re doing is the first time you’ve done it, the first time everybody else has done it, and you’re kind of building it as you go.

I hope I never have to learn like this again. But we’re all just a plane flight away from the next pandemic.

—as told to Heather Stephenson

“We feel an altruistic calling.”

Meredith Reuben, J72, CEO of EBP Supply Solutions, a wholesale distributor of cleaning products and foodservice equipment , a third-generation family-owned business

Meredith ReubenMeredith Reuben

In March, there was a surge of demand from health-care institutions adding beds to simply keep up with COVID. Naturally, they were also very concerned about reassuring their patients and the public that they are a clean and sanitized enterprise.

As a company that has to respond rapidly in any crisis, we have a robust disaster plan in place. But in terms of demand overwhelming our manufacturers—for products like gel sanitizers and toilet paper—I have never seen anything like what we’ve seen with the pandemic.

A crisis of this magnitude requires calm and thoughtful leadership, so right away we began to meet every morning at nine o’clock and every afternoon at four to review and reinvent our processes. We wanted to make sure we were prioritizing health-care clients, but also continuing to serve all our customers.

One thing that has been clear to me as CEO is the importance of workplace culture; it’s a family business and a family culture. We feel an altruistic calling. I’m very proud of all of our teams, particularly our drivers. We take pride in a collective mission and feel a higher purpose right now.

—as told to Laura Ferguson

“Many individuals were left in a no-man’s land.”

Abdul “Abe” Abdulwaheed, E97, D02, runs the Lux Dental group in Greater Boston and is CEO of Vita League, a tech consulting firm. He created to match people needing urgent dental care with dentists providing emergency services during the COVID-19 crisis.

Abdul “Abe” AbdulwaheedAbdul “Abe” Abdulwaheed

Many dentists were not seeing patients, or only seeing patients of record; many individuals were left in a no-man’s land. The Dental Cupid directory needed to be digital, easily used, and free. It had to include what insurance is accepted, whether Medicaid is covered, whether teledentistry is provided, and distance and transportation info.

And it had to be built in three days. Our two interns [from Vita League] looked at me through Zoom and their jaws dropped. We launched with about twenty dentists. The directory is up to 9,500 providers, all around the U.S., in Canada, in Australia.

This is a gift of dentistry: It’s the good will of dental medicine, in a pandemic, trying to help people. Dental pain is real. If you’ve ever had a toothache, believe me, you’ll never forget it.

My experience at Tufts shaped a lot of things I do today—public-health; research. Believing what the right thing is, and following through on your vision, despite adversity—that’s a very strong part of the Tufts culture.

Not all dental offices will be able to open at full capacity immediately. Dental Cupid will be filling the void as long as it’s needed.

—as told to Helene Ragovin

“We see their courage.”

Trina Spear, A05, co-founder and CEO of FIGS, a manufacturer of comfortable medical apparel, better known as scrubs

Trina SpearTrina Spear

So far we’ve donated more than thirty thousand sets of scrubs, and we’re also now producing millions of N95 masks and two million isolation gowns through our global supply chain. We have a capability to protect people, so we really took that responsibility seriously and said, “We need to show up and do our part.”

We’re talking to health-care workers every single day, and what they are facing is tragic. The system is broken. It takes companies like ours to respond. We’ve been serving health-care professionals since 2013 when we started FIGS, and it’s our mission to celebrate and empower them, crisis or none.

While this crisis is horrible, a silver lining is that the world gets to see just how incredible this community is. That’s why we call them Awesome Humans. Because to us, they aren’t heroes, they are humans doing the extraordinary every single day, no matter what—“relentlessly optimistic, determined and resilient.”  

We see their fear in the face of the pandemic—and we see their courage. Courage is about being afraid but doing it anyway. And that’s what they’re doing. They are people like me and you, they’re just doing extraordinary things with a crazy, crazy level of courage.

—as told to Laura Ferguson

“We need something to smile about.”

Cyndie Cota, J89, manager of administration at Washington National Cathedral, which donated 5,000 N95 face masks to two local hospitals

Cyndie CotaCyndie Cota

Our head stonemason recalled a stockpile of masks going back to 9/11, stored and forgotten, for the most part, in the crypt. When we went down, we were expecting to find a case, but instead we uncovered 5,000 within a big shipping box.

It had all this dust on it, and it said expired, but when we opened it up, every mask was in its own individual box. My boss contacted the CDC to ask: Are they still good? The CDC said absolutely—as long as they had remained dry. There’s not a drier place than the crypt. 

Now, the Red Cross has approached us to host blood drives, as we have 50,000 square feet in the nave. Would they have thought of us had we not been gone looking for and then donated the masks?  I don’t know.

I do know that the find made all the local and major news outlets. I even heard from a former neighbor and Tufts graduate living in South Korea! I think the newsworthy factor has something to do with the nature of a crypt. But also, we’re a global community that needs to rally as never before, and we need something to smile about. It has given me great joy and pride to be part of this remarkable story.

—as told to Laura Ferguson

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