How Tzu Chi NY Is Supporting Frontline Heroes at COVID-19’s Epicenter

Northeast  |  April 3, 2020
Elmhurst Hospital in New York City offers free COVID-19 testing daily. Photo by Jupiter Chiou

Written by Daphne Liu
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by  Dilber Shatursun

Rush hour during the new coronavirus pandemic in New York City is a strange sight. After the state implemented stay-at-home orders for non-essential businesses, traffic now moves rather smoothly. But, in the city that never sleeps, there is great panic behind closed doors.

Hoping to relieve some of this panic, Tzu Chi volunteers at its Northeast regional headquarters are in the right place at the right time. They are located right in the pandemic’s current epicenter, where the numbers indicate that New York City alone has more confirmed COVID-19 cases than China currently does as a whole country. This, perhaps, is one of Tzu Chi’s greatest calls to action.

Volunteers gathered at its Flushing office, where they packed a total of 4,000 surgical masks and 470 N95 respirators. They would be delivered to the embattled Elmhurst Hospital and Harlem Hospital Center.

Masks await to be packed and sent to NYC hospitals. Photo by Jonathan Van Lamsweerde
Tzu Chi New York volunteers gather safely to pack the materials. Photo by Jonathan Van Lamsweerde

Supporting Frontline Heroes

Healthcare workers across the city have been posting to social media about the war-like conditions at their workplaces. This includes Elmhurst Hospital Dr. Barbara Porrello Perez, a physician who works in pediatric emergency medicine. Exhausted after a long shift, she expressed dismay at not being able to sufficiently meet the needs of every patient.

There are a lot of patients, when they need help, us, the pediatrics team would be there to help them. With many having breathing difficulties that require oxygen.

Highways signs remind drivers to stay home. Photo by Daphne Liu
Elmhurst Hospital in Queens is one of the most severely inundated hospitals in New York City. Photo by Jupiter Chiou

Dr. Porrello told us that she had heard from her colleagues that someone bought medical masks at an unbelievable price; about ten times the normal price.

Dr. Barabara Porrello of Elmhurst Hospital expresses concern for the well-being of her colleagues and patients. Photo by Jupiter Chiou
Healthcare workers at Elmhurst Hospital must keep their masks on even while out. Photo by Jupiter Chiou

Tzu Chi volunteers deliver the supplies to Elmhurst Hospital’s Dr. Guangdong Liu and Dr. Huajun Huang. Carrying the boxes, Dr. Liu teared up.

Everyday we receive medical supplies from good Samaritans, many are from the Chinese community, I’m truly touched. I’ve already burst into tears twice today.”

He also shared some of his concerns for the future. “I hope to share some resources with the community because their stores and businesses are greatly affected, and there may be financial problems for them as we go forward. Let’s share some love with them!,” he said.

Hearing all this from healthcare workers on the frontlines, Tzu Chi volunteers felt a stir. And some, like Huijung Lee, have been brewing on these thoughts for some time.

It’s heartbreaking seeing frontline medical workers worry about having basic medical supplies that would protect themselves and others. I can only imagine if one of my family members was a doctor or a nurse; I would be worried, too.

Reflecting on the severity of the pandemic, Huijung resolved to deliver medical supplies to the Harlem Hospital Center alongside her son. Feeling a motherly instinct for those on the frontlines, she was determined to bring them herself.

Volunteers at Tzu Chi’s Northeast Regional headquarters pack supplies for NYC hospitals. Photo by Jonathan Van Lamsweerde
The Harlem Hospital Center. Photo by Jonathan Van Lamsweerde
Huijung Lee and her son deliver the medical supplies to the Harlem Hospital Center. Photo by Jonathan Van Lamsweerde

Staying Home to Flatten the Curve

As more and more cases are confirmed each day, and as spring heralds the beginning of the allergy season, it is important for the public to know what to do if they suspect they may be infected with the new coronavirus. First, they should consult their primary care doctor, either online or by phone. Arriving at a doctor’s office in person could expose others to potential risk. Private practitioner Dr. George Hall emphasized this.

If people suspect similar symptoms to the new coronavirus, please don't go to the hospital for screening. First, consult with a family doctor to clarify the symptoms and free up resources before wasting health care dollars.”

Elmhurst Hospital set up outdoor tents to manage the influx of patients. Photo by Daphne Liu
In place of regular office visits, Dr. George Hall screens suspected new coronavirus patients by telephone first. Courtesy of Dr. George Hall

Dr. George Hall has been working from home for the past two weeks. He is averaging consultations with roughly 60 patients a day, with a majority of them being Chinese speakers. He uses whatever means he can to assess patients’ situations, including photo messaging and video chats. “During the consultation, I will look at the patient’s tongue and face and listen to whether or not they have shortness of breath,” he shared.

Dr. Hall estimated that more than half of the patients had flu-like symptoms, including possible COVID-19 cases. According to the symptoms, highly suspected cases of coronavirus accounted for about one-third. Fortunately, many symptoms are mild.

"So many are complying with the stay-at-home order. This is of great help to the current healthcare system because one less patient means less burden to the hospitals."

However, Dr. Hall also emphasized that everyone must continue to be cautious and implement preventive measures since the variable nature of the virus may present gaps in containing the coronavirus disease. He explained that “many patients experience mild symptoms and recover after infection, but having never been diagnosed by testing, they may become super-transmitters.” This emphasized his point of carrying out as many tests as possible.

At present, the COVID-19 outbreak in New York is still approaching its apex. Every contribution counts. Contribute now to empower our volunteers to offer relief to New Yorkers and more.

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