USC Chinese community donates hundreds of thousands of PPE to USC Keck Medicine

Organizers and coordinators shared the donation process and challenges they face.

In a collective effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of USC Chinese parents donated and delivered hundreds of thousands of personal protective equipment to Keck Medicine of USC.

After learning that USC Keck Medicine is in need of PPE like surgical masks, N95 respirator and protective gowns, the USC Chinese community acted quickly. As of April 27, at least 330 Chinese parents donated more than 150,000 disposable gloves, 100,000 isolation masks, 4,000 N95 respirators, 870 surgical masks, 650 coveralls and other PPEs to Keck Medicine.

Since March, USC Chinese parents have been sending “love packages” individually or collectively to Keck Medicine to show support and help alleviate the hospital’s pressure of PPE shortage. They coordinated their effort through WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app.

There were four rounds of large PPE group donations from USC Chinese parents to USC Keck Medicine: on April 3, 1,260 N95 masks donated by 24 parents were delivered to Keck; on April 13, 2,590 N95 masks by 75 parents arrived; around April 17, Keck received 150,000 disposable gloves and 202 coveralls donated by 176 parents; on April 23, 425 coveralls donated by 60 parents arrived at Keck.

In between these collective donations, numerous small packages of N95 masks and other PPEs mailed by individuals from the USC Chinese community arrived at Keck. Additionally, a USC Chinese freshman’s family donated 100,000 isolation face masks to Keck.

Wei Gao and Xiudi Li, respectively based in Philadelphia and Shenyang, are two main organizers of the donation drives on WeChat.

“We’ve never met each other, but we all know each other online and trust each other. Each of us has a good heart, a desire to protect our health care workers and a meticulous, hands-on spirit,” Li told Annenberg Media via WeChat.

Gao and Li know each other virtually through a USC Class of 2022 parent WeChat group, which connects parents of hundreds of USC Chinese sophomores. This chat group was also where Gao and Li initiated their donation efforts in late March.

Gao and Li contacted Keck Medicine, found supplies and designed a WeChat program used to collect donations from parents. They were responsible for the first two and fourth rounds of large group donations.

“It was actually very difficult to start the effort, but the two of us were very determined to get this thing going,” Li said.

The process of looking for qualified N95 masks was complicated and arduous, according to Li. She worked with Gao to search for the masks’ English certificates online and check their quality. The two parents also created a separate chat group for this donation drive.

“After we finally found the masks that, we think, meet the standard, we sent the purchase link to the group chat,” Li said. “It didn’t take long before about 20 people purchased those 1,260 masks.”

Many parents who missed the first round were asking for other ways to donate, so Li started the second round of donations.

“We were very united. We wanted to give the opportunity to everyone. There were lots of enthusiastic parents joining the effort,” Li said. “We can each do our small part. By contributing little by little, we can solve the critical problems together.”

These parents each donated money via the WeChat app. Hong Zheng, a USC alumna and neuroradiology researcher at Keck Medicine, picked up and delivered the first batch of masks to Keck. Chengyan Wu, operation director of USC Chinese Students and Scholars Association, did for the second batch.

After they learned from the PPE suppliers in China that the shipping and export became a “bottleneck,” Gao and Li encouraged parents to ship small packages of N95 masks individually to Keck.

“All three of my small packages ended up arriving within a week or so,” said Li, who was the first one among parents to do so.

However, the two parents told Annenberg Media that small individual packages also faced regulations as they were limited by weight and size.

“Those small packages are very hard to send. We had to find qualified goods, make an appointment with DHL, limit our number of packages to two at a time, with each less than 2 kilograms,” Gao said. Li added that “any package containing more than 100 masks will likely be detained by customs."

Because many parents knew that large shipments would take a long time to get to USC from China, many of them took the approach to buy masks in China and ship them directly to Keck in order to speed up the process. “Offer meager strength to solve the urgent need” was the slogan printed on each package sent to Keck.

Li said when the COVID-19 outbreak first happened in China back in January and February, USC Chinese students helped their own country. Now, as the pandemic is hitting the United States, the Chinese student community, including their parents, “will not hesitate to lend a helping hand.”

“The pandemic has erased the geographical limit and any more. We are a global village and the whole world is one community,” Li said. “Especially as we, the Chinese people, have experienced the impact of the pandemic, we can empathize the plight of Americans have been going through.”

Another group of Chinese parents led by Michelle Wang, mother of a USC freshman, raised more than 190,000 yuan ($26,000) with the intention to buy and deliver N95 masks to Keck as well. However, due to the uncertainty of securing supplies and the tightened custom regulation, the group decided to purchase 202 coveralls and 1500 boxes of synthetic vinyl exam gloves in 150 cases, which were delivered to USC Keck Medicine in mid-April.

Wang started the online donation campaign on March 27 without personally knowing a single parent, she said. After she exchanged ideas with some parents in a Class of 2023 USC parent WeChat group-which was created by USC CSSA to connect parents of hundreds of USC Chinese freshmen- and consulted experts, she created a Wechat group specifically for this donation drive as well as a fundraising program in WeChat. Lots of parents beyond those of the Class of 2023 students joined the group.

The drive raised more than 150,000 yuan ($21,000) in five hours on WeChat from more than a hundred USC parents. The money came in so quickly that she had to close the fundraising in advance to avoid reaching the daily limit of cash transfer on WeChat, she said.

“Everyone in the group was so warm and loving,” Wang told Annenberg Media. “Some of them even don’t bother writing down their contact information, they just sent the money first.”

Zheng, who helped transport the first batch of N95 masks to Keck Medicine, has been a leading coordinator between parents and Keck about needs, standards and procedures of donations.

As a liaison between donors of the Chinese community and Keck Medicine, Zheng created a WeChat group composed of 190 people including USC parents, students and staff at Keck Medicine, to share the most updated information on donation.

“We share information about where to transport these supplies, how to donate them, what types of PPE are qualified and what are the most needed now,” Zheng said.

Through constantly communicating with Keck Medicine, she said the procedures of donation have become clear, solid and reliable, which is important for donors to keep motivated. As a neuroradiology researcher at Keck, Zheng said she suggested Keck Medicine provide gift agreements and liability waiver for donors by contacting Kerri Yoder Hubbard, senior executive director of health system initiatives, and Tammy Murphy, associate administrator of materials management.

“The first time I transported supplies to Keck Medicine, I only signed for the donation form for donated equipment. Since it was Keck Medicine’s first day to change the donation location, there were no gift agreements or signs of Keck Medicine at the place,” Zheng said. “I thought donors from China might be quite nervous because we don’t know each other before and there isn’t enough proof in the photo I sent to them that the hospital has received the donation. So I expressed the concerns to Keck Medicine.”

Zheng said she was touched that Keck began to provide gift agreements and release of liability within a week.

Zheng has contributed most of her time to coordinate donations from different Chinese groups since the first case of a medical worker at Keck Medicine was confirmed with COVID-19.

“I was supposed to prepare for the United States Medical Licensing Examination this month, but I didn’t have time to read books for that exam at all, since I almost spent more than 12 hours on the donation stuff,” Zheng said. “I started replying to messages, phone calls and emails as I woke up every day.”

USC student and Operation Director of USC CSSA Chengyan Wu transported the second wave of mask donations to Keck.

“I was really moved by warm-hearted parents, so I wanted to help them complete the donation to Keck Medicine of USC,” Wu said in a phone interview with Annenberg Media. “As part of the USC community, I wanted to contribute something to the school.”

Nationwide, the increased use of surgical masks and gowns may exceed the available supply, resulting in shortages at some healthcare organizations, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Los Angeles Times reported in April that doctors and nurses in California have to reuse their N95 masks due to the shortage.

As of May 3, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has recorded 25,662 cases of COVID-19 and 1,229 deaths.

As of May 1, 115 patients tested positive at Keck Medicine of USC, and 94 and of them have discharged home.

For its patients and healthcare workers, Keck Medicine of USC-which includes Keck Hospital of USC, USC Norris Cancer Hospital and USC Verdugo Hills Hospital-uses roughly 7,000 to 9,000 isolation and surgical masks and 1,200 N95 masks on a daily basis, Tamara Murphy, associate administrator of materials management at Keck Medicine of USC, told Annenberg Media in a phone call interview on April 21.

Keck started to ask for PPE donations in mid-March. Murphy said in the interview that Keck has had reliable supplies of PPEs through both procurement and donations. She believed that Keck would have sufficient stock for PPE if “everything stayed status quo as it is today.”

“We believe that isolation masks and isolation gowns will continue to be a need that the institution is going to have for the long run,” she told Annenberg Media in a phone interview. “Because those are the standard basic PPE needs that every institution is going to need when we put a patient under standard isolation, which is the first step in protecting our patients when we are dealing with COVID-19. ”

Murphy said Keck would continue to monitor the need for PPEs until the situation gets back to normal in the United States. She said donations from various communities have been “a vital piece” in helping to protect healthcare workers and patients across Keck institutions.

“Thank you for all of the care, the concern, the help and the effort to make sure that we keep all of the Trojan family, whether it be our patients or our clinicians or our staff who are on the frontlines helping to fight COVID-19, keeping us safe, keeping us protected, and making sure that we have what we need, so that we can help fight this battle and continue to fight on for everybody,” she said.

Keck is accepting donations of PPEs, including face masks, N95 respirators, face shields, safety goggles, disposable gowns, disposable gloves and disposable surgical caps. Annenberg Media confirmed that Keck also accepts KN95 masks.

Update May 7: In addition to the 150,000 gloves, the group of Chinese parents led by Michelle Wang also donated 202 coveralls, which now has been added to the story.

Correction May 9: a previous version of the story incorrectly stated that Xiudi Li is in Shenzhen. She is in Shenyang. The previous version also incorrectly stated that the USC Class of 2022 parent group chat was created by USC CSSA. The group chat was created by USC parents. The USC Class of 2022 parent group chat was created by USC CSSA. Annenberg Media sincerely apologizes for these errors.