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New Sonoma County crowdsourcing site aims to help community respond to coronavirus crisis

How To Help

Go to activate-northbay.org to find resources for how to make donations both locally and nationally.

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For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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Early Monday morning, Matt Kirk headed to Windsor to meet a Healdsburg woman in an appointed parking lot. He opened the back hatch of his car and stood to one side, waiting. The woman, who he’d texted that morning, pulled up and deposited a box into a plastic bin in the back of Kirk’s car. The two exchanged brief pleasantries and then both pulled away, heading in opposite directions.

Scene from a spy thriller? No. Kirk, co-founder of the just-launched website activate-northbay.org, was taking delivery of personal protective equipment essential to health care workers in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic. The box deposited into his car was filled with medical grade masks.

Those masks, plus gloves, gowns and face shields are at a critical shortage in most areas seeing cases of the highly contagious virus. The need is so bad that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, on Monday accused the federal government of hijacking her state’s order for such protective equipment. Gov. Gavin Newsom has expressed concern that as the supply strain increases, states will end up competing with each other for a limited number of critical medical gear.

Into that breech have stepped community activists like Kirk, who are calling on construction companies, nail salon owners, fire survivors to look in their garages and storage kits for unused masks, gloves and other items that can be donated and deployed immediately. Call it crowdsourcing in the face of catastrophe.

“We really need to make sure that people on the front lines are protected,” Kirk said.

Kirk and lifelong friend Dr. Mark Shapiro created the website to give shut-in Sonoma County residents a way to reach out and help each other and those on the front lines of the coronavirus fight. Their website is a place where makers can find patterns to create face shields with 3-D printers, or patterns to sew cloth masks for those whose immune systems are compromised, as well as links to the Redwood Empire Food Bank and the area blood drives. They are offering to collect donations and get them to those in more need. They are also providing links for people to send them directly.

The idea, in short, is to provide quick, efficient answers to anyone who may be asking themselves, “I’m sheltered in place, what can I do?”

Turns out, quite a bit.

“In our region, we have been through this before,” said Shapiro, an internist at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. “When people ask that question, they are not asking for the sake of asking. Let’s give them tangible things to do.”

The push by Kirk and Shapiro started about two weeks ago when they put out a call among friends and colleagues among local residents for unused masks left over from past wildfire seasons. The quick response left a bigger question: If a couple of buddies could gin up 40 masks just like that, what might the larger community do?

They asked friends to put out collection bins. Kirk, IT director at O’Reilly Media in Sebastopol, started asking around if friends had 3-D printers that could create at least part of a medical face shield.

The pair decided to launch a website to provide a one-stop shop for people to find ways to pitch in. And they did not have to re-invent the wheel. So many communities across the country are grappling with the same needs that similar websites are popping up seemingly everywhere there is a need - which is seemingly everywhere.

The campaign has been spearheaded by the founders of getusppe.org.

It was just two weeks ago that Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician and associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University, and some colleagues took to Twitter with the hashtag #getusppe. Offers of donations started coming in, so the doctors turned to a group of engineers to craft a website and design software that would help identify donors and link them to the closest health care agencies in need. Medical students have become couriers, she said. Delivery companies have donated their services.

It’s innovation driven by desperate need. In just two weeks, 2,000 health care facilities have registered their equipment needs with the site, Ranney said.

It is not work that she, Shapiro or Kirk, are professionally trained to do.

“No, absolutely not,” Ranney said. But she has become a national spokesperson on the need for protective equipment, appearing on CNN and CBS. “This is not what I want to spend my time doing. I am a full time emergency room physician and health care worker. I have two kids and a husband,” she said “I don’t normally work in the supply chain but the fact is, no one else was doing this.

How To Help

Go to activate-northbay.org to find resources for how to make donations both locally and nationally.

_____

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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“I cannot let my colleagues and friends go without protective equipment,” she said. “It’s not fair.”

Ranney called local and national grassroots collection efforts a stopgap measure only.

“To me this is a very basic function of the federal government,” she said.

The physicians are among a growing chorus in the medical world that have called for use of the Defense Production Act, which gives the president the authority to direct private companies to produce equipment needed in an emergency. Ventilators are on that list. So too are gowns and masks and respirators.

Domestic production of that equipment and creation of an efficient database that would link gear with facilities in need is crucial, Ranney said.

In the meantime, would-be donors are encouraged to scrounge what they can from their personal kits and donate them to health care workers.

Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County’s top health official, said she’s seen and heard of locals responding to the call. The surge of donations is critical for the local fight against coronavirus, she said.

“I think it’s great that the public wants to step up and help with donations of their own,” Mase said.

“I’ve heard from the clinic doctors, and even Kaiser, that people are just driving up and dropping off supplies,” Mase said. “Every little bit helps. We’re really thankful.”

Kirk and Shapiro said it’s about empowering people to do what they can in trying circumstances. If they can make a collection run that keeps four other people from leaving their house on some weekday morning when they should be sheltering in place, then that’s chipping in. If the website can put tools in the hands of those willing to help with their sewing machine or 3-D printer, that’s chipping in, too.

After devastating wildfires in recent years, Sonoma County knows how to band together. The community just has to find a new way to do it, Kirk said.

“Rallying together virtually is all we can do,” he said. “We can’t get together, we can’t congregate and talk to neighbors and just sort of grieve together and panic together. It’s just different now. This has been an outlet for people.”

Staff Writer Tyler Silvy contributed to this story.

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