Written by Jennifer Chien
Translated by Diana Chang
Edited by Adriana DiBenedetto
On July 26th, 2020, volunteers from Tzu Chi USA’s National Headquarters carried out their first free COVID-19 antibody testing event for 100 people in the community, helping to assess the virus’s spread — especially through asymptomatic transmission. To ensure the health of Tzu Chi volunteers and protect the safety of locals, five Tzu Chi volunteers from the National Headquarters in San Dimas, California, purchased antibody test kits specifically for the event.
Together with professional medical volunteers from Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA), a second COVID-19 antibody testing event that took place on August 23rd, 2020, benefited a total of 165 Tzu Chi members.
Love and Care for Our Tzu Chi Family
Tzu Chi USA CEO, Jackson Chen, remarked that the pandemic in the United States showed no signs of ceasing, and reminded everyone that case rates have risen once again. In the past few months, Tzu Chi has held up to two grocery distributions each week across Southern California to support those suffering from food insecurity due to the crisis. Therefore, to care for the health of our Tzu Chi volunteers and ensure the health of the community, it was necessary to organize this testing event for volunteers. The original plan was to provide 150 tests, but the number of people registered exceeded 160.
Dr. Shirley Chen, the Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Medical Development Department, said that after Tzu Chi’s first COVID-19 antibody testing event held on July 26th, the testing operation procedures were improved so the participants can drive in and park by the tent. There’s no need to get out of their vehicle; they just need to stretch out their hand to get the test completed, minimizing the risk of infection to testers.
Following Through With Volunteers
This also marks the first COVID-19 antibody testing event carried out entirely by Tzu Chi volunteers. Four physicians and nine nurses from TIMA, as well as the Tzu Chi volunteers responsible for registration and directing traffic, were all on-site at 7 AM. The team of physicians — Dr. Stephen Denq, Dr. Victor Cheng, and Dr. Peter Chen — went over the procedure for collecting the blood samples with the nurses, and demonstrated the safe disposal of used medical equipment to ensure testing is performed in a safe, professional manner that meets medical guidelines.
Volunteers who signed up for the testing arrived one after another starting at 8 AM. Following guided traffic lines, they stopped their vehicles in front of one of four tents to get tested in an orderly fashion. After the blood samples were retrieved, they could drive to a waiting area behind the tent. In approximately ten minutes, they received their test results from a doctor via a phone call on-site.
Since Tzu Chi USA’s National Headquarters had prior experience with such testing events, this second event was completed effectively and efficiently. With the pre-arranged appointments in a consistent order for examinations, 165 tests were completed by 10:30 in the morning. At the previous event, 100 tests had been completed by noontime, and volunteers were pleased to have improved.
Maintaining Healthy Prevention Measures
Dr. Peter Chen explained that this event was carried out using a test kit approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and has an accuracy rate of 95%. It mainly tests the blood for IgM and IgG antibodies from the novel coronavirus. IgM antibodies are the first type of antibodies produced by the human body in the early stage of a COVID-19 infection. After an initial period of infection, the IgM antibodies will eventually diminish, and instead, the body will produce IgG antibodies. If these are not detected by the COVID-19 antibody testing kit, it’s considered negative.
Dr. Peter Chen explained that if IgM antibodies appear in the test result, it means that the patient has just been exposed to the virus, and the virus may still be in the body. The doctor will advise the patient to take a swab for coronavirus testing. If there are people with IgG antibodies in their bodies, it doesn’t mean that they will be immune to the virus, and mutations of the virus are not unfathomable. Indeed, everyone should continue to uphold preventative measures.
Dr. Victor Cheng said this second testing event was all carried out by Tzu Chi volunteers themselves. As this project was undertaken by members of TIMA for the first time, multiple video conferences were conducted prior to the event day to ensure everything would run as smoothly as possible. Even with mindful preparation, they still encountered some small challenges on the day of the event. Volunteers promptly responded to correct any issues that arose — for example, adjusting the traffic flow when the vehicles were in a longer line than expected. Dr. Victor Cheng believes that although some potential improvements could be made for future events, all the volunteers have gained vital experience through this project.
Reducing Infection Rates in the San Gabriel Valley
Stephanie Tang, a registered nurse working at a Kaiser Permanente Medical facility, and her daughter Virginia Tang, who’s also a registered nurse, took the opportunity to join Tzu Chi’s testing event on their day off. Stephanie believes that it’s a very meaningful event to be a part of. She’s thankful to be able to help the community understand the effectiveness of preventive actions that reduce the transmission of COVID-19.
Virginia Tang works in the hospital on weekdays and is assigned to help COVID-19 patients. She feels the stress of the pandemic on a daily basis, but when she heard that her mother was going to volunteer at a Tzu Chi event, she readily volunteered to join as well despite her busy work schedule. She believes that if more residents get properly tested, they can be better prepared, and help reduce the infection rate in the community.
Theresa Huang, a nurse at UCLA Medical Center, had also helped at a Tzu Chi food distribution event under the scorching sun on the day before the COVID-19 antibody testing event. She said she came to help because she recognizes the importance of this testing, as many Tzu Chi volunteers regularly worry if they may be asymptomatically infected. Fortunately, all the volunteers tested negative, and everyone released a sigh of relief. Volunteers will continue carrying out their duties with the utmost care.
Protect Yourself and Others
Many Tzu Chi volunteers who came for testing that day were volunteers who often participated in distribution events during the pandemic. Everyone was worried that if they were asymptomatically infected, they might spread the virus without knowing, and affect the health of others. Therefore, the volunteers came to this event for the benefit of their health and the health of the community they serve.
Volunteer Sharon Chu, who often participated in food distribution events, and her mother Chengi Su, came together for testing. Chengi works at the Jing Si bookstore on the Tzu Chi Walnut Campus, and learned that someone came down with a high fever after visiting the store a while back, so Chengi and the volunteers in the store that day were very worried. They began to self-quarantine as a precaution to avoid the possibility that they, too, could spread the virus. The opportunity to get tested came as a tremendous relief. Thankfully, they were both confirmed negative, and also learned more about proper preventive measures at the event.
All staff members from the National Headquarters’ Administration Department participated as well, and the test results were all negative once again. Fiona Wang, an administrative staff member, shared that because the administrative staff is often in contact with volunteers visiting at the office, all her colleagues were tested.
This testing event was held successfully thanks to the love, care, and dedication of Tzu Chi volunteers. Volunteers carry a great responsibility to the people and communities they serve, and will continue to take preventative measures, like wearing face coverings, washing hands frequently, and maintaining social distance. In this time of uncertainty, volunteers strive to be a source of stability, and ensure that those who struggle know their Tzu Chi family is here for them.