Tufts Parents in China Donate 31,000 Masks

A round-the-clock effort brings precious equipment to Tufts Medical Center
Pallets of shipping boxes waiting at a warehouse. Tufts parents in China donated 31,000 respirator masks and other precious equipment to Tufts Medical Center.
The cargo of respirator masks, medical gowns and goggles was ready to ship just days after the parent volunteers put out the call for donations.
April 1, 2020

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A group of Tufts parents in China has donated 31,000 desperately needed respirator masks to Tufts Medical Center, which is facing a crush of patients infected with COVID-19. The masks and other sought-after personal protective equipment (PPE) were shipped from China and arrived at the medical center on April 1.

“We have been there, we feared, we were desperate, we suffered,” one of the parents, Helen Yue He, E19P, EG20P, explained in an email, referring to China’s experience with the coronavirus. “And because we suffered, we think we are in a better position to understand and embrace the compassion, care, support, and love at this difficult time.”

Knowing that Massachusetts has not yet seen its peak of cases, the parents contacted Ming Zhong, director of Tufts’ Asia relations and development, on March 20 to say they wanted to raise money to purchase protective equipment for health-care workers in the Tufts area.

The parents said they empathized with what was going on in the United States. “We felt great concerns for the acute shortage of personal protective equipment in hospitals in the U.S., having witnessed such shortage in Wuhan and other cities in China,” Jingyu Bian, A18P, wrote in a letter to Tufts President Anthony Monaco on behalf of the parents’ group.

Rallied by a core group of seventeen volunteers, more than 150 people donated to the cause. In just a few days, “we received overwhelming responses from Chinese parents, including parents from outside mainland China like Hong Kong, Taiwan, America, and other countries, parents whose children graduated years before and some students and alumni,” wrote He.

The parents added an inspiring message—and a couple of Jumbos—to the shipping boxes.With the donated funds, the parents sprang into action, using their networks to locate and purchase 31,000 respirator masks, 2,000 surgical masks, 2,000 pairs of goggles and 2,000 medical gowns directly from a certified manufacturer of an established brand in Shanghai. Would Tufts Medical Center be able to use them?

Zhong reached out to Amanda Schwartz, F20, who volunteered early on in the coronavirus outbreak to help Tufts in its preparedness efforts. Schwartz turned to Peter Lee, F20, a member of the Military Fellows Program at The Fletcher School. Experienced in crisis management, Lee has been advising Tufts Medical Center on its inventory and procurement and working with its vice president of supply.

The medical center’s policy had been to take equipment donations only from within the United States. “When the VP of supply heard how much the parents were going to be donating,” Schwartz said, “he made an exception.”

The parents have long been active members of the Tufts community who regularly donate to Tufts causes and attend Tufts events in China. Zhong said she is touched not just by their generosity, but by their round-the-clock effort.

A core working group of parents used their varied professional experiences in law, import/export, and shipping to navigate China’s constantly changing rules on what personal protective equipment can be sent out of the country and the CDC’s rules on what can be imported. Each day, Zhong would wake up to more than a hundred messages between the parents as they discussed details on how to get the shipments out as quickly as possible.

On March 23, just a few days after first contacting Tufts, the parents sent a first, trial shipment of 1,000 respirator masks and the 2,000 surgical masks to Tufts Medical Center. It arrived the next day, and medical center staff quickly inspected it and gave a thumbs up. “They were incredibly happy with the quality,” Schwartz said. “They said, ‘Please have the parents send whatever else that they can.’”

The rest of the supplies left China immediately after, arriving April 1 at Tufts Medical Center, where they were ecstatically received, said Nicholas Duncan, director of emergency management. “With this added resource, our staff will continue to have the right PPE to keep them safe and treat the COVID-19 patients,” he said.

Many of the parents have been very active in the Tufts community. Several of them toured the Great Wall of China together last year.  Respirator masks fit close to the face and filter out particles that can carry the coronavirus. They will be used at Tufts Medical Center and its affiliate hospitals in Massachusetts.

Without specifying percentages, Lee said 31,000 masks is “a substantial increase” in the hospitals’ inventory and overall preparedness. “The hospital is concerned about protecting its staff so that the staff can continue to protect the public,” he said. “These masks will directly impact the staff’s ability to react to whatever walks in the door.”

A number of other Tufts supporters, including a handful of alumni in China, are currently trying to organize other donations of PPE.

The parents’ goal, Bian wrote, is to support the university and its community at such a testing time. “We sincerely hope that our effort will help the brave medical workers. We also look forward to seeing Tufts University even stronger coming through the pandemic,” he wrote.

The parents summed up their feelings with a message they printed on the shipping boxes, right next to the Tufts Parents Giving program logo of a large elephant with a small one. “Empathy, Resilience, Solidarity. Together WE will get through this!”

Julie Flaherty can be reached at julie.flaherty@tufts.edu.