Dr. Lijing Yang, a professor at Ohio University, displays some of the masks she and the PPE for Athens Task Force purchased from China to donate to Athens County health officials.
Dr. Lijing Yang, a professor at Ohio University, displays some of the masks she and the PPE for Athens Task Force purchased from China to donate to Athens County health officials. (Photo credit: Lijing Yang)

Ohio University Community Connects Across Continents To Provide PPE For Athens

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) –A group of Chinese and Taiwanese staff members at Ohio University started a task force to supply local healthcare workers with personal protective equipment (PPE) during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are now calling on the community to further the cause and have set up a donation fund through the Athens Foundation.

Last week, the PPE for Athens Task Force donated 3,460 surgical masks to the Athens City-County Health Department.

The PPE for Athens logo., featuring a red heart with the shape of Athens County in white in the middle.
The PPE for Athens logo. (Photo credit: Lijing Yang)

A number of Chinese and Chinese-American students donated PPE as well, bringing the total to more than 3,800 masks. Two scholars from Wuhan who are former visiting professors at OU have also donated to the fund.

“This is definitely a gift of love from both Chinese and Chinese-American communities here,” said Yi-Ting Wang, a member of staff at OU’s Graduate Writing and Research Center. “The donors now include current faculty, residents, and Chinese restaurant owners and there are also former visiting scholars from China, they really appreciate and treasure their memories here.”

Ohio has been a “sister state” to China’s Hubei Province since 1979. Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, is the capital of Hubei.

“We realized our efforts and (the) Chinese community is very small,” said Dr. Lijing Yang, an assistant professor of higher education and founder of the task force. “So we want to involve more American neighbors, American citizens, the community in Athens.”

‘Complex waters’

The PPE For Athens task force is in direct contact with suppliers in China to purchase masks and have them shipped to Athens. Yang said the task force members are in regular communication with Athens County health officials and medical staff at OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital.

This effort requires attention to detail, said Dr. Qilang Wu, an assistant professor in the mathematics department.

He explained the task force members have done a lot of research to determine what PPE meets federal regulations and how best to distribute supplies in the Athens community.

“This is a global pandemic,” he said. “It’s fought globally and locally.”

Wu added the cost of the equipment, logistics cost, and how long masks will take to arrive are also important factors.

“We need to be very careful and swim through all of the information that is flowing towards us and try to sort out which supplies are the best,” he said.

Dr. Jim Zhu, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, also said task force members have put in a lot of effort to make sure they purchase effective masks from reliable companies.

“It is a very volatile market,” he said. “These are very complex waters to navigate.”

Wang added that regulations in both countries are changing quickly, which adds urgency to this task.

Connection across continents

The task force members and OU students have been connected with people in China since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

Dr. Chang Liu, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, collaborated with other OHIO professors and his daughter to create an online science series for young people in China while they were in lockdown.

“We had a series of science chats, informal scientific lectures to engage them, to give them something interesting and something distracting,” he said.

Dr. Yuqiu You is an associate professor of engineering technology and management, and advises OHIO’s Chinese Learners Association. She said students in CLA have been raising money all year to help combat the pandemic.

“Originally they collected donations from faculty and students here to try to get the PPE to support China…back in January and February,” You said, adding that students are now supporting the Athens community with their fundraising efforts.

Meeting community needs

Cases of COVID-19 in Ohio continue to rise. Athens County has reported three cases and one death as of Friday, April 10.

Zhu said there will be a greater demand for protective masks since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended all Americans cover their faces in public.

“We’re also hoping to get more if possible to provide to people in greater need, like in rural areas or low-income or who have lost income,” he said.

Dr. Qilang Wu's son delivers medical masks to neighbors. Dr. Wu is an assistant professor of mathematics at Ohio University.
Dr. Qilang Wu’s son delivers medical masks to neighbors. Dr. Wu is an assistant professor of mathematics at Ohio University. (Photo credit: Aya Zhang)

Wu added that the task force is trying to best identify what the Athens County community needs, and said his family has been giving medical masks to friends and neighbors.

“I think there’s a greater need in the community, not just for all the frontline essential workers,” Wu said.

Yang said the task force is may be uniquely suited to help the Athens community because of members’ connections in China and their ability to speak the same language as the companies who are supplying the masks.

“The political story is always tricky between these two countries,” Yang said. “But the virus does not have boundaries between the countries. We are all the members of this community, Athens, although we are from China or Taiwan and we have extended family over there. All of us, we will stay in Athens during this situation and we will continue to stay here, and work here, and study here…We just want to do our fair share of contribution in this time of need.”

To learn more or to donate to PPE for Athens, click here.