Wingate science departments answer the call for PPE

by Chuck Gordon

We’ve all heard a lot about PPE (personal protective equipment) over the past couple of weeks. It’s in short supply, or soon will be, in hospitals around the country as medical professionals work day and night treating patients and fighting the spread of the coronavirus.

With in-person classes canceled at Wingate for the rest of the semester, there are boxes and boxes of gloves, gowns and masks just sitting on shelves. Or there were, anyway. On Tuesday morning, Wingate’s interim provost, Dr. Bob Supernaw, put the call out for departments to collect as much PPE as they could for distribution to local hospitals. The University responded immediately.

Members of the Biology Department collected thousands of pairs of gloves, which they normally use for experiments of all kinds. With labs now being taught virtually, the gloves were gathering dust.

Boxes of surgical gloves ready for delivery

“Those gloves can be used by medical health professionals during these times far more than they’re used by us,” says Dr. Shem Unger, assistant professor of biology.

Members of the School of Pharmacy, the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, the Nursing program and the Biology Department got to work quickly on Tuesday gathering up unused supplies (and distancing themselves appropriately).

The tally of PPE collected on the Wingate and Hendersonville campuses is impressive: 405 masks (including 35 N95 masks); 15,800 gloves, in a variety of sizes; about 140 foot covers; and 45 isolation gowns.

In Hendersonville, Michelle Chaplin, assistant dean of pharmacy on the Hendersonville campus, was busy on Wednesday collecting supplies from pharmacy and physician-assistant labs to take to Pardee Cancer Center.

Pharmacy students have also been lending their expertise to North Carolina’s Poison Control Center in Charlotte. Since their spring break the week of March 16-20, Wingate students have been manning the phones for the center’s N.C. Coronavirus hotline, answering a variety of questions from the general public about COVID-19. They are likely to continue volunteering for the foreseeable future, in addition to continuing their education remotely.

Of course, volunteering gigs like this are part of their education too.

“Learning how to communicate with patients ‘on the fly’ and distill down their concerns into a scientific question, researching a response, and then providing back in a way that is easily understood and informational is a vital skill for any pharmacist,” said Dr. Wes Haltom, associate professor and director of advanced pharmacy practice experience. “These students have had an increased opportunity as a product of this stressful time for patients and caregivers, as well as the general public.”

March 25, 2020