As coronavirus spreads, aid groups work to get masks, gowns to health-care workers

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Doctors and nurses are getting sick. In New York City, reports say dozens of doctors are ill from coronavirus, including at least one physician intubated and on a respirator.

The helpers desperately need help themselves.

That is why several groups are working to get unused masks, gowns and other personal protection equipment [PPE]  items into the hands of the medical community by asking people for their unused items.

“I think it’s absolutely shocking that we aren’t able to support our health-care environment in this remarkably medically advanced nation,” said Danielle Butin, the founder and CEO of the Afya Foundation, which since 2007 has distributed medical supplies and humanitarian aid to 72 countries around the globe. Now, the focus has been here at home. “Afya” means “health” in Swahili, and that’s what the medical profession has needed right now.

“I’m getting emails that crack me in half from nurses and doctors who Afya loved to work with over 10 years, and they are saying, ‘what do you have and what can you help us with?’ Every single time one of those emails comes in, it’s heart-wrenching.”

Many people who normally wouldn’t think they had the in-demand supplies, actually do. Painters, contractors, construction companies, nail salons, auto-body shops and so many other professions have relied on gear that now could be put to use to protect the nation’s medical system. For example, The New York Historical Society donated all of its plastic gloves used by art handlers, to New York hospitals.

CORONAVIRUS: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

On the other side of the country, in Oakland, Calif., two young entrepreneurs, Liz Klinger and Chloe Alpert, saw the sudden emergency — and launched Mask Match.

“It’s about getting masks [and] surgical masks out of people’s cabinets, their garages, their workshops and getting them directly into the hands of the front-line health-care workers as soon as we can,” Klinger told Fox News. She said she got the idea when her mother, a nurse, told her that the hospital had run out of masks.

“She was working on the floors and she told me they weren’t providing her or her coworkers any masks for them as they were taking care of their patients. That got me worried, especially because she’s over 65, she has some preexisting conditions and where she lives in California, she’s supposed to be quarantined, basically, by the state government’s orders.”

The pair got Mask Match up and running in 48 hours to distribute masks and protective gear directly from donors to doctors, nurses and clinics. Its website has offered an “I need masks” request form for health-care workers, and an “I have masks” for donors. The focus has been on smaller towns and cities that the larger drives could overlook.

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“You have people in urgent-care clinics who are on their last masks, people who are stapling their N95 masks together to be able to use them through the end of the week. And also, smaller rural clinics, their office managers just don’t have the ability to order and make an order for masks for people in their community.”

Anyone who wants to help can go to Afya Foundation. Or, Mask-Match.com, or MasksForDocs.com.

Fox News’ Jennifer Oliva contributed to this report.

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