The Blair Magnet community responds to the COVID-19 pandemic

by Ted Jou '99

The ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has affected all of our daily lives, sending thousands to hospitals and closing schools and businesses nationwide. Many in the Blair Magnet community have responded to the pandemic, including alumni working on the front lines in hospitals treating patients afflicted by the disease. Many others have volunteered their time and effort to support health workers and vulnerable populations, raising money, making masks, and delivering food and essentials. Several alumni have also been active in raising public awareness and pursuing research related to COVID-19.

The epicenter of the outbreak in the United States has been New York City, where hospitals have seen a surge of patients suffering from COVID-19. Dawn Maldonado, Class of '08, is an internal medicine resident who has been working at the Elmhurst city hospital in Queens, one of the hospitals at the center of the city's crisis, as reported in the New York Times. She posted on Facebook and Instagram about the "intense" experience of working in a hospital through the peak of COVID cases in late March and early April, recounting her experience trying to revive a patient who came to the hospital without a pulse. Dr. Maldonado also shared her appreciation for the friends and family who have been supporting her, and the thanks she has received from patients and their families, even the families of those that don't make it. She writes: " To have a family member be grateful for all of this, especially when the patient just died, is absolutely mind-boggling. And beautiful. I have yet to meet a healthcare worker who thinks we deserve any thanks. But to be thanked for something as dreadful as pronouncing a loved one dead shows how inexplicably beautiful humanity is." (@friendlychickens)

One of Dr. Maldonado's classmates from the class of '08, Caleb Fan, has been working at the same hospital during the pandemic. Dr. Fan is an ENT resident who volunteered to help staff a new temporary ICU that was created at Elmhurst in March. With the hospital overwhelmed with critical patients, there was a desperate need for doctors and nurses to treat COVID patients, and he was one of 12 residents from his department to volunteer. He cites the "emotional toll" as one of the biggest challenges, as most of the ICU patients are at an advanced stage of the disease, more often leading to death than to recovery. Dr. Fan is thankful for the support that doctors have received from the community -- at the end of March, he and his colleagues started a GoFundMe to support ICU workers at the hospital, and they were able to raise over $30,000 in three days.

Both Dr. Maldonado and Dr. Fan are completing their residencies in New York's Mount Sinai Hospital System, while Sherman Leung, Class of '12, is in his first year of medical school at Mount Sinai. He is one of the many medical students who have been volunteering their time to help in the fight against COVID. In particular, Leung helped to design the website for COVID-19 Student Volunteers at Mount Sinai, and he also helped to launch #offtheirplate in New York City, an organization raising money to feed health care workers with restaurant meals.

Locally, several Blair students have been active in helping the community deal with the effects of the pandemic. Sophomores Dhruv Pai and Matthew Casertano started an organization called Teens Helping Seniors, volunteering their time to deliver groceries to senior citizens in Montgomery County. They were interviewed by Montgomery Community Media, and then by CNN and People Magazine. They now have over 60 volunteers and are making as many as 20 deliveries a day. Their efforts have been highlighted by Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin), and they are now helping teens around the country organize similar efforts. (@teensforseniors)

One of the first shipments of masks from Open Works was delivered to the University of Maryland Medical System, where there are several Blair alumni enrolled as medical students and working as doctors. One of these alums is Stanley Liu, Class of '00, a cardiologist and medical school professor at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. Dr. Liu has been self-isolating from his family since the end of March, and like many other medical professionals, he has become more active on social media during the pandemic, seeking out masks and face shields for his colleagues, working to combat widespread misinformation about the virus, advocating for hand hygiene and mask use by the general public, and raising awareness about new discoveries for COVID-19 management with medical professionals around the country. He recently published an article with the American College of Cardiology: COVID-19: Disruption and the Innovation it Demands From Early Career Cardiologists.

Joshua Weitz, Class of '93, is a professor of biological sciences at Georgia Tech who has also been active in raising public awareness about COVID-19. In early March, he wrote in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, explaining the simple probabilities that support the canceling of large events like March Madness. More recently, he has warned of the risks of opening up the economy before reaching certain benchmarks. Pf. Weitz's research includes the modeling of viral dynamics, and his group has focused their recent efforts towards the COVID-19 outbreak, modeling the use of serological testing to achieve "shield immunity," and how the time scale of asymptomatic transmission affects estimates of epidemic potential. He recently gave a talk at Georgia Tech on the "Dynamics of COVID-19: Near- and Long-Term Challenges." (slides)

Arjun Oberoi, another sophomore, has been using his 3D printer to make parts for medical face shields, delivering over 300 face shields to local hospitals, nursing homes, and first responders. Oberoi has also coordinated with other local makers as part of a broader effort to manufacture face shields, and his efforts were recognized locally on NBC4, WUSA9, and Montgomery Community Media. He been delivering parts for face shields to Open Works in Baltimore on a weekly basis, contributing parts for over 400 masks in April.