BY JOY WEI AND MIKE ADAMS
As the coronavirus epidemic cuts its way through China, members of Great Neck and Long Island’s Chinese community have stepped up to try and help the people caught in the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan.
The China has suffered mightily since the stark of the novel coronavirus (designated COVID-19 by the scientific and medical community) outbreak in December, with a total of 77,658 confirmed cases and 2,663 confirmed deaths as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus has begun to spread to neighboring nations and countries around the world (though there are still no confirmed cases in New York and only 14 in the United States), but nowhere has felt its impact like the capital of the Hubei Province. Wuhan, a sprawling metropolis of nearly 9 million people, has been under total quarantine for the last month. Wuhan has built two new hospitals in the last month to accommodate the sick, and medical professionals in the city have been taxed physically and mentally in their fight against the infectious disease. A number of doctors and nurses, including Wuchang Hospital Director Liu Zhiming, have themselves become victims of the virus they strove to combat.
On Jan. 25., the Association of Chinese American Physicians (ACAP) rallied for support.
ACAP members Pei Gao, a resident of Great Neck, and Linda Shang, a resident of Manhasset, teamed up with Tongfa Zhu, an entrepreneur living in Great Neck and Beijing. They had a clear objective: send medical supplies to Peking Union Medical College Hospital, which was deploying a team of medical professionals to Wuhan to aid shortage of medical staffing, and the Hubei Jianli Hospital in a small county about 150 miles from Wuhan. Both hospitals reported low stock of medical supplies.
“This is a war against coronavirus, and medical professionals are at the very front line of the battles,” Shang said. “It is hard to imagine soldiers going into battles without armor. We are just lending a little bit of help to these soldiers at the very front line so that they can save more lives.”
The trio donated generously, and they worked closely with the Chinese community to secure more donations. Members of ACAP helped to secure much needed supplies, including N95 masks, surgical masks, disposable medical masks, medical caps, protective clothing, surgical gowns and anti-shock goggles.
While they were working on the supplies, the situation in China quickly worsened. As airlines cut flights to China and more cities in Hubei province were quarantined, shipping anything to China, especially Hubei, became a difficult task.
“Every minute counts because human lives are at risk,” Zhu said. “I used to think doctors are just a respectable profession, but in a crisis like this, they are truly angles. We must help them in the fastest way we can.”
They quickly realized that the fastest way to send the medical supplies is to have Zhu take them on his flight back to Beijing. Zhu rescheduled his flight for the supplies to be ready.
Instead of waiting for the shipments, local volunteers drove to warehouses in pickup trucks to get some supplies. On Jan. 29, Great Neck volunteers gathered at Zhu’s house, repacking more than 200 boxes of medical supplies into 27 large boxes overnight. The next day, Zhu boarded the Air China flight 982 with all the boxes. Landing at the Beijing airport 14 hours later, he handed them over to the representatives of Peking Union Hospital and Hubei Jianli County, who had been waiting anxiously. Along the way, he received help from the staff of Air China and many others whom he met the first time.
Over President’s Day weekend, Shang, Gao and Zhu organized another round of medical supplies, this time for Huangmei Hospital in Hubei.
“We specifically chose this small hospital outside Wuhan,” Gao said. “It has admitted over 200 patients infected with coronavirus and doctors are seeing patients who are suspected to have coronavirus every day. The hospital is running very low on medical supplies.”
This time, Zhu and a few of his friends in Beijing donated $15,000 to start the efforts. ACAP members added their donations and secured the supplies. On Feb. 17, Shang, Gao, Dashi Bao, Li Lu and Wensong Li, (all members of ACAP) their friends and families, spent their President’s Day organizing the medical supplies. The Long Island Chinese American Association sent volunteers to help the next day. Within two days, they packed more than 81,500 pieces of protective gear in 35 large boxes.
Kids in Great Neck decorated the boxes with posters of bright colors, hearts and hopeful words. They encouraged people in Hubei to stay strong.
On Feb. 18, these 35 boxes of medical supplies, boarded Air China Flight 982 to Beijing, the first leg of their journey to Huangmei.