Fist bump wearing gloves.



Labs donate protective equipment to health care workers

3 min read

As University facilities have shut down, faculty and staff gathered gear to pass along amid a nationwide shortage

A call went out just hours before the labs shut down across campus as part of the University-wide social-distancing push to combat the spread of the coronavirus, and faculty and staff responded immediately.

“We had a lot of PPE [personal protective equipment] that was no longer being used on site that could be put to good use,” said Sarah Elwell, director of research operations for science and engineering. Last Wednesday, Christopher Stubbs and Frank Doyle, the deans of the Division of Science and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, respectively, sent emails to their faculties with a message that was quickly shared with colleagues: As you shut off the lights and lock the door, please put out your PPEs. Similar support came in from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and Harvard Medical School labs.

“Members of our community are on the front lines taking care of patients,” said Jennifer Ryan, chief of staff at Harvard Medical School, where thousands of essential supplies have come in from labs across campus. “We heard about the shortages and our researchers quickly mobilized to donate needed supplies.  It is so rewarding to see the community act individually and collectively to assist each other and work to keep us all safe.”

The request was a response to a national outcry from health care professionals, clinics, and hospitals about a dire shortage of masks, gowns, gloves, and protective eye gear. Principal investigators and lab staff left boxes outside their locked labs, collecting thousands of essential supplies like nitrile gloves, N95 masks, protective eye guards, surgical and procedure face masks, and disposable Tyvek lab coats.

“I saw all these boxes and my heart sang,” said Elwell.

Man standing with boxes.
Boxes of protective equipment.

Administrative Dean of Science Russ Porter sorts through boxes of donated personal protective equipment.

Photos courtesy of FAS Science and SEAS

The donations came from across FAS, from the Science Core facilities and Ancient DNA lab to the Center for Nanoscale Systems to the SEAS departments of Bioengineering, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Chemistry and Chemical Biology.

Teamwork has been key. Elwell praised the deans for “leaning in” during the crisis, helping the effort’s wide support.

“The building staff, the custodial staff, the shipping and receiving staff who helped us collect all these things played a really essential role,” she said. Other faculty, she noted, are leading initiatives to marshal other resources. “I see my role as operationalizing the efforts that are happening across the science community and the FAS to help with this,” she said.

Douglas Finkbeiner, professor of astronomy and physics, has also helped in collecting supplies. At this point, he said, supplies will be going to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). “MEMA has been identified as in a position to absorb the supplies and distribute them in an equitable manner,” he said.

“We know from press reports and contacts at local hospitals that supplies are stretched thin. Production of masks is ramping up, but there may be a critical shortage before those are manufactured and distributed,” added Finkbeiner. “We want to make available any resources we have at Harvard that can help.”