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COVID-19 Relief in Atlanta During Turbulent Times

Southern  |  July 9, 2020
Tzu Chi volunteers deliver personal protective equipment to the Gwinnett County Police Department’s headquarters in Georgia on June 19. Photo / Charlie Sun

Translated by Julienne Chi
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a widespread sense of social alienation. On May 25, the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died at the hands of a white police officer during his arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, compounded the sense of estrangement for many. And the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and riots that erupted following this tragedy further deepened the rift between some groups.

In response to an explosion of protests and social unrest, large cities set stringent guidelines for public behavior and even imposed curfews in some cases. Many people avoided going out even during the day, fearing mobs that could potentially lose control, endangering innocent bystanders.

Anxiety was exceptionally high in Atlanta, Georgia, historically, the home of the civil rights movement in the United States. The racial tension between blacks and whites was near the boiling point, when on June 12, what many in the city feared, Tzu Chi volunteers among them, actually happened.

However, during the nearly three weeks before then, Tzu Chi Atlanta volunteers continued their donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals in Georgia, in the midst of communities on edge.

Answering the Needs of Georgia Hospitals Amid Social Unrest

In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death and the protests that followed, each delivery of PPE in Atlanta and beyond demanded careful planning to set routes going around neighborhoods where demonstrations were likely or expected. Ultimately, the turmoil in the streets that began near the end of May didn’t deter volunteers from their vital deliveries, which had been steadily ongoing for weeks.

“Since April, we have donated various PPE to over 30 hospitals and 50 clinics, hoping to relieve some of the pressure from the shortage of supplies,” Tzu Chi volunteer Charlie Sun explains. He then shared why the donations must persist in Georgia without interruption too:

Recent cases of coronavirus infection have slowed in Georgia; however, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and Arkansas all set the highest records of newly confirmed cases in June. The pandemic situation in the U.S. is still severe. With each state’s situation affecting one another, Georgia should not let down its guard.

Charlie Sun, Tzu Chi Atlanta Volunteer

Moreover, the pandemic has widely impacted society and the economy. In addition to Atlanta being the center of the civil rights movement, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is also the world’s busiest airport by passenger traffic. As the number of people traveling worldwide dwindled following the outbreak of COVID-19, the livelihood of many households in Atlanta was detrimentally affected.

The pandemic’s impact is also far-reaching. As part of a domino effect, the medical system has suffered as well, with hospitals forced to implement layoffs, salary reductions, and unpaid leaves. Many hospitals have even reduced their general budget for the second half of 2020, making the existing problem of insufficient PPE supplies even worse. 

The pandemic has had a considerable impact on the hospital, some night shifts were suspended, and employees also arranged to take their leave during this time to reduce the financial burden on the hospital.

Jane Zheng - Pathology Lab Technician, Northeast Georgia Medical Center (Gainesville)
Jane Zheng’s colleagues in the Pathology Lab accept Tzu Chi USA’s donation of PPE. Photo / Jane Zheng

And so, Tzu Chi USA’s deliveries of PPE continued as planned, despite any challenges emerging due to recent protests. On June 8, volunteers donated PPE to several healthcare facilities where they had already brought supplies earlier in May. These included Houston Healthcare’s Perry Hospital, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite Hospital, and the Surgical Department at Emory Healthcare’s Emory Johns Creek Hospital.

Tzu Chi Atlanta volunteers deliver PPE to Houston Healthcare’s Perry Hospital on June 8, their second donation here since May. Photo / Charlie Sun
Tzu Chi USA’s second donation of PPE supplies reaches Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite Hospital on June 8. Photo / Charlie Sun
The Surgical Department at Emory Johns Creek Hospital receives a second donation of PPE from Tzu Chi USA on June 8. Photo / Charlie Sun

Each time the volunteers deliver PPE supplies, they also listen to medical personnel carefully to ascertain their changing needs and make adjustments to the list of PPE they’ll bring next time. The goal is to best match frontline healthcare staff’s requirements to maximize the effectiveness of Tzu Chi’s donation.

For instance, by the end of May, the number of newly diagnosed patients in Georgia was on a downward trend. Those who required intubation or were critically ill were also declining in number. As a result, beyond the various medical masks that are always in short supply at hospitals, their need for general protective isolation gowns became significantly higher than that for full-body protective antiviral coveralls. And so Tzu Chi’s subsequent donations took these changing demands into account.

On June 10 and 12, Tzu Chi Atlanta volunteers traveled to three hospitals and three clinics and donated 11,500 medical masks, 980 KN95 masks, 750 isolation gowns, 100 protective goggles, and 30 coveralls among them.

Tzu Chi volunteers donate PPE to Northside Hospital Gwinnett’s Emergency Care and Obstetrics and Gynecology departments. Photo / Charlie Sun

At two dental clinics that received Tzu Chi USA’s donations of PPE on June 12, staff had been unable to purchase such supplies due to widespread shortages. At one of these clinics, Dr. Li Chou, the person in charge, immediately responded with a donation check, hoping to extend his gratitude to other people and organizations in need through Tzu Chi.

On June 12, Tzu Chi Atlanta volunteers bring PPE to a local dental clinic, where Dr. Li Chou (left), the person in charge, accepts the donation. Photo / Courtesy of Tzu Chi Atlanta Branch

After leaving the clinic, the volunteers returned home to rest, grateful that they had the opportunity to serve and benefit their community that day. But their sense of peace would be interrupted that night by the disturbing and inflammatory news of another death at the police’s hands, this time close to home, right in Atlanta.

Shortly before midnight on June 12, an African-American man, Rayshard Brooks, was fatally shot by a white policeman in the parking lot of a Wendy’s restaurant on University Avenue in South Atlanta, while resisting arrest. This latest tragedy added fuel to the fire of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and crowds quickly began to gather at the site, emotions running high.

Many in the city braced for disaster, and sure enough, on the evening of June 13, a local news team aired a live broadcast from a helicopter above the Wendy’s restaurant, now aflame due to arson. The blaze everyone saw on TV that night was like a fire in hell, burning bright red in the dark. And a wall of people blocked the police from approaching, further intensifying the danger at the scene.

Observing the unfolding drama in the heart of their city, gave Tzu Chi volunteers pause: How could they help at this time of great division and mistrust between black communities and law enforcement?

Damages are easy while repairs are difficult; the alienation and rifts between people will require great love to bring them together and make amends.

Charlie Sun - Tzu Chi Atlanta Volunteer

Tzu Chi’s philosophy aims to inspire unconditional love to draw people together, and they felt that bringing respect and care forward even at such a volatile time would be of optimum benefit. Since volunteers in Atlanta had been bringing PPE to frontline healthcare workers, first responders, and other public servants, such efforts must continue and include police officers.

Protecting Public Servants Performing Their Duties

Despite the sudden public outcry, law enforcement officers still had to do their jobs serving the community. As the protests continued, officers repeatedly encountered shouting and face-to-face conflicts. It was distressing to note that on numerous occasions while performing their duties to maintain order during community patrols, highway checks, and demonstrations, many officers didn’t wear masks, putting themselves at an increased risk of COVID-19 infection.

Therefore, on June 19, Tzu Chi Atlanta volunteers donated 6,000 medical masks and 1,000 KN95 masks to Gwinnett County Police Headquarters. As they delivered the supplies, hoping to cheer up the officers, the volunteers also expressed sincere thanks for their public service: “Although this year, there have been some incidents in the United States and Georgia that have had a negative impact on the police, people still respect the police and are grateful to the police for their hard work to maintain law and order.”

Officer Jordan Griffin, who was among those accepting the donation, was genuinely moved: “Thank you Tzu Chi, our colleagues are very touched; the PPE supplies are really scarce, so we use what we receive.”

On June 19, Tzu Chi Atlanta volunteers also brought 4,000 medical masks and 1,000 KN95 masks to Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services Headquarters.

Volunteers deliver Tzu Chi USA’s donation of PPE to the Gwinnett County Fire and Emergency Services Department. Photo / Charlie Sun

 On the same day, the volunteers also delivered PPE to a dental clinic, bringing 500 medical masks, 60 KN95 masks, and ten pairs of goggles just three days after receiving the request. Dentist Jocelyn Spaulding, who was on hand to receive the supplies, admired the volunteers’ efficiency in meeting the clinic’s urgent needs.

Tzu Chi volunteers deliver PPE to a dental clinic just three days after receiving the request. Photo / Charlie Sun

First responders – whether police, firefighters or healthcare workers – risk their lives to serve and stabilize the community. As a part of the community, the volunteers in Atlanta were grateful that they could express their gratitude through donating PPE to help safeguard them as they perform their duties.

However, following this mission, some volunteers felt that we might all need an additional item of PPE in these turbulent times – one to safeguard our minds from negativity and hostility, allowing our innate goodness and goodwill towards all to shine through the dark.

Isolation gowns can protect medical personnel from viruses, offering them some peace of mind while treating patients. When viruses invade the body, there is a medical treatment for it. But when viruses invade the mind, what is the treatment for that? In an era of information overload, real, fake, useful, and harmful information travels quickly. Each day we receive content from all directions and in various forms; within it, there is content that could infect the mind. Just as we wear masks and wash our hands to prevent infection from the virus, we should also protect our heart with a mask or isolation gown to filter the information that may invade our mind.

Charlie Sun - Tzu Chi Atlanta Volunteer

Indeed, let’s safeguard our hearts so that positivity and kindness may always prevail, alongside efforts to help those in need.

With just a $10 contribution to our Together While Apart campaign, you can help us get individuals and families the assistance they require to move forward through the pandemic – be it financial support, groceries, personal protective equipment (PPE), and more. If we can get 500,000 people to participate, we can reach $5,000,000 in relief!

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