Researchers, lab staff step up big with donations

Making PPE delivery to Thielen Student Health Center

Associate director of environmental health and safety Bill Diesslin delivers donated personal protection supplies to the Thielen Student Health Center staff Friday. Pictured (l-r) are Calyn Tope, Emily Swenson and Julie Halbur. Image supplied.

Wolfgang Weber occasionally needs an N95 respirator, but he donated nearly a full box of the precious protective masks last week. Weber, who runs a teaching lab in the biomedical sciences department at the College of Veterinary Medicine, said some of his tasks create bad dust -- grinding up bones, for example.

However, when the call went out from the provost's office for a campus effort to inventory and collect about 10 varieties of protective equipment for local health care workers on the front line of the COVID-19 battle, he didn't hesitate.

"It's a priority thing. What they need them for is much more important," Weber said, adding he'll improvise the next time he needs a mask.

Weber's story is one of dozens across campus, as faculty and staff round up gloves, disposable gowns, safety glasses, hand sanitizer, face shields, surgical masks -- and the elusive N95 respirators -- in their research and teaching labs. Staff in environmental health and safety (EHS) created an online spreadsheet and invited the campus community to populate it. In the first 24 hours, there were 90 entries. By early this week, there were 178. It includes entries as small as "3 face shields" to one offering nitrile gloves: "3200 XL, 5800 L, 3000 M, 5800 SM."

Chinese gift

Luqiao "Allen" Yu, an ISU alumnus who returned to his native China, was connected to Diesslin via the alumni association and asked how he could help. Yu, with help from 17 friends, rounded up 5,000 surgical face masks and 200 face shields and shipped them March 31 from Ningbo to Ames via airmail -- with a promise to find surgical gowns soon. Each box was sealed with the wrap, "Go Cyclones."

EHS associate director Bill Diesslin, who also serves on the university's COVID-19 workforce protection working group, is managing the list and the effort to get protective supplies into the right hands. Every entry is a winner, he says.

"It's overwhelming how much generosity there is on our campus," he said. "It's nice to witness something like this."

For now, there isn't a central stockpile forming anywhere on campus. From the spreadsheet, Diesslin knows the types of supplies offered, quantities, where they're stored and how to contact the owner when the time is right. Last Thursday, he sent a request to deliver three especially scarce items to the EHS Building: disposable surgical gowns, face shields and N95 respirators. When he arrived at work the next morning, an unopened case of surgical gowns was among the supplies already dropped off.

ISU's Thielen Student Health Center is the first place the donated supplies go.

"I take my lead from the leaders in student health," Diesslin explained. "They tell me what they need to safely do their jobs. I find it on the list, and then I go get it for them."

Diesslin said he coordinates frequently with Story County Emergency Management leaders in preparation for a larger COVID-19 outbreak. If and when that time arrives, he will consult the spreadsheet and start retrieving donations from across campus.