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Donation station

Veterinarians volunteer during COVID-19 pandemic

By Kaitlyn Mattson
Published on May 11, 2020

Dr. Sherilynn Burkman, a veterinarian at Alta Animal Hospital in Idaho, isn’t much of a seamstress.

“Personally, I am much more comfortable suturing flesh than I am sewing fabric,” she said. 

But when Dr. Burkman, who is chair of the Idaho VMA One Health Committee, spoke with people in public health about the shortage of personal protective equipment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to do something.

“I reached out to colleagues across the state and asked if they were in a position to donate PPE, and many said they could donate. ... What I found over and over again is that they didn’t have enough to cover their needs, so my next thought was, ‘What can we do to address that?’” she said. “So, I started thinking about who I know that sews and are fast about it.”

Dr. Burkman cold-called friends, family members, and acquaintances she thought might sew. By the end of April, she was working with about 20 volunteers who had produced over 400 masks for veterinarians across the state.

The IVMA One Health Committee is also coordinating PPE donations from the veterinary community to public health districts across Idaho.

Dr. Burkman and her volunteers aren’t alone in their efforts. JAVMA News spoke with several veterinarians who are donating their time and energy in similar ways.

Sewing squads

Another team of volunteers has formed at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The 76 volunteers have even named themselves.

Britt Edquist sews cloth face masks
Britt Edquist sews cloth face masks in Idaho Falls, Idaho, as a volunteer for the Idaho VMA Face Mask Project. (Courtesy of Dr. Sherilynn Burkman)

“We’re the Face Mask Brigade,” said Dr. Lysa Posner, a professor of anesthesiology and assistant department head of molecular and biomedical sciences at the veterinary college.

The group originally planned to provide at least three cloth masks to each staff member working at the NC State Veterinary Hospital. Having accomplished that goal, they started to divert extra masks to veterinarians in the area.

“We’ve distributed about 50 to 75 masks to local veterinarians in the state,” Dr. Posner said. “Most veterinarians in North Carolina have donated their PPE to human hospitals, so this is a way for us to help them get protection for themselves and their patients.”

Dr. Posner said from a community standpoint, the effort has been incredible.

“People want to contribute,” she said. “Everyone is locked at home, and they feel like they’re not doing anything, and this is something they can do.”

Dr. Posner said that, while cloth masks are not going to stop the virus entirely, they do keep people safer.

Dr. Mary Marcotte, a veterinarian at Cherished Life Animal Rescue in Carmel, Indiana, and the Animal Care Alliance in Richmond, Indiana, said she couldn’t believe how comfortable the cloth masks were when she first tried one. Dr. Marcotte started sewing masks after discussing the PPE shortage with her husband, who is a family physician and a chief medical officer at a hospital.

“I realized we as veterinarians could use the cloth masks,” she said. “So I started sewing for my colleagues.”

Dr. Marcotte and seven other volunteers have made over 500 masks.

“Before veterinarians run out of their supply (of PPE), I would love to do this trade where we give the cloth masks to them, and then they give their surgical masks to local hospitals,” she said.

Dr. Burkman said she knows she and the other volunteers haven’t solved the PPE crisis, but she hopes they’ve helped.

“A pandemic is an unfortunate real-time illustration of how important one health is and one-health collaborative efforts,” she said. “We have come together as the veterinary community to help the human health care workers with what they need, and the need for one-health collaboration is so important. So, having chaired the IVMA One Health Committee for years, now I am always looking to emphasize that.”

Food donations

Dr. Amy Tyler started the St. Francis Animal Resource Center in Norman, Oklahoma, because she wanted to provide services for pet owners in need and keep animals out of shelters.

The organization has been offering services to those who qualify since February 2019, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Tyler decided to do a much larger event for pet owners with no information exchange required. At an event in April, the organization gave away over 400 pounds of pet food.

Dr. Tyler said that, although the resource center was around before the pandemic, this situation has reaffirmed to her how important it is.

“The pandemic has made me realize how much communities need an organization like this in times of crisis,” she said.

Faculty members at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine are also donating food—human food, that is. Drs. Chris Sanchez, interim associate dean for clinical affairs, and Sally DeNotta, a clinical assistant professor, sent 40 meals to essential faculty and staff members working at the UF Veterinary Hospitals.

“We have clinicians and technical staff working the clinic around the clock,” Dr. Sanchez said. “Providing lunch is one small token to show our appreciation for their efforts.”

Other efforts

Some other efforts within the veterinary community include the following:

  • Virginia Tech students in the master’s of public health program and the dual doctorate of veterinary medicine and master’s of public health are volunteering at a COVID-19 call center and testing site in the state.
  • The Shedd Aquarium in Chicago donated a laboratory instrument that extracts DNA and RNA from biological samples to COVID-19 testing efforts in April.

 

Donations or inquiries for the North Carolina State University Face Mask Brigade can be sent to facemaskbrigadeatgmail [dot] com.

Dr. Mary Marcotte is willing to ship masks, and inquiries can be sent to drmaryatlive [dot] com.