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NC State Faculty Donate Masks to Rural Communities Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Faculty members in the Department of Forest Biomaterials have banded together to donate more than 10,000 masks to long-term care and healthcare facilities across eastern North Carolina.

When communities across the country asked for masks and other equipment to protect frontline workers against the coronavirus, Dr. Marko Hakovirta and his colleagues in the Department of Forest Biomaterials at NC State answered the call. 

Through business connections in China, Hakovirta, a professor and head of the department, was able to secure a shipment of more than 10,000 masks. Twenty faculty members contributed funds to complete the donation. 

“I’m extremely proud of the department for making such a significant contribution during this challenging time,” Hakovirta said. “We are facing an unprecedented health crisis, but I believe this donation will go a long way in helping local communities prevent the spread of the virus.”

On April 22, Hakovirta delivered the masks to more than a dozen long-term care and healthcare facilities across eastern North Carolina. Each donation included a note: “Combating COVID-19 is a collective effort that all of us are facing. You, as caregivers and protectors, are on the front lines of this fight — and we want you to know that we acknowledge and appreciate what you do for others.” 

Health officials say the virus that causes COVID-19 spreads mostly between people who are in close contact with each other, and from respiratory droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs.

Unfortunately, North Carolina and other states are facing a shortage of the masks and respirators that help prevent airborne transmission of the virus from infected patients to the medical professionals treating them. 

Thousands of healthcare workers have signed an online petition demanding the government to do more to ensure an adequate supply of masks and other protective equipment. Others are using the hashtag #GetMePPE on social media to voice their concerns. In North Carolina, UNC Health and other hospital systems have issued a joint call for donations of masks and other protective gear. 

In addition to rehabilitation centers and hospitals, Hakovirta said the department targeted nursing homes and assisted living facilities in rural communities for donations. 

Residents in long-term care facilities are among those most likely to experience complications from the virus given their advanced age and the prevalence of other health conditions. A report from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that COVID-19 has killed more than 10,000 residents and staff members at nursing homes and long-term care facilities nationwide, including 117 people in North Carolina. 

Experts say rural communities are also particularly vulnerable to serious outcomes with COVID-19. Medical facilities in these communities typically lack a sufficient number of providers and resources to adequately treat patients, while residents are older and chronically ill.

Hakovirta reviewed data from the N.C. Division of Health Service Regulation Providers in order to identify facilities. He then called more than 30 facilities to assess their individual need for masks.

“The response during these calls was amazingly emotional and the potential recipients were many times practically in tears of joy,” Hakovirta said. 

Faculty members who contributed to the donation include Dimitris Argyropoulos, Med Byrd, Hou-Min Chang, Ronalds Gonzalez, Marko Hakovirta, Martin Hubbe, Hasan Jameel, Steve Kelley, Nathalie Lavoine, Lucian Lucia, Lokendra Pal, Sunkyu Park, Melissa Pasquinelli, Joel Pawlak, Perry Peralta, Ilona Peszlen, Richard Phillips, Daniel Saloni, David Tilotta, and Richard Venditti.