Many current and former Wayne State students are on the front line fighting the ongoing surge of COVID-19 cases in Michigan. 

As of April 13, there have been 25,635 confirmed cases in the state, with 6,781 cases in Detroit alone.

WSU nursing student Tunzzina Chowdhury works as a rapid phlebotomist at Ascension St. John Hospital in Detroit, and she said the hospital is currently overwhelmed.

“It used to take about four minutes to prepare for each patient. Now it takes about 30 minutes,” she said. “On a regular day, I’d get around 30 patients, but with COVID-19, even five patients tire me out completely because you have to make sure you aren’t taking whatever is in the room with you around the hospital.”

Chowdhury said the hospital is running low on many resources. 

“We are reusing everything. Every time we walk out of a patient’s room, we take that same equipment we walked in with, disinfect everything, put it in a bag and reuse it. It’s really hard but we’re doing what we can.”

Sidelined, WSU medical students have taken it upon themselves to organize volunteering initiatives that aid in reducing COVID-19 stress many hospitals and individuals are experiencing.

“A lot of the medical students, as soon we realized that we were no longer going to have clinical responsibilities in the hospital, wanted to start involvements with our community partners in any way that we could,” said third-year WSU medical student Sam Rea. 

With the help of American Red Cross, Rea said she co-coordinated blood drives for medical students to volunteer at.

“We contacted them to see how we could best assist them, and so they’re the ones – as the blood collection agency – who are hosting these drives, collecting the blood and then distributing it to the hospitals,” Rea said. “They take place throughout southeast Michigan. A lot of the main university blood drives were canceled and the locations had to shift accordingly so that we can still host the blood drives.”

Along with medical students from other universities, graduate research assistant at the SOM, Tabitha Moses has been running an initiative taking care of healthcare workers’ household and childcare needs.

“We are going to physicians’ houses. We have sign up forms where physicians tell us what they need. As soon as a healthcare worker signs up, we find a student who is in that nearby location with the relevant desired time and we connect the two,” Moses said. 

She said many medical students are doing this across the country, and one in metro Detroit is needed.

“All of the childcare facilities are closed, but obviously all of our healthcare workers still need to go to the hospital – so this was a need.”

Nikki Sidhu, now a fourth-year medical student, said the lack of PPE in Detroit is “ridiculous.”

“There was an entire team of people that was getting one face shield across the entire floor of a hospital,” Sidhu said. “One of the residents reached out to me to see if there is any way to help get them PPE, and at that time I had actually assumed that things were getting better because I heard on the news that Ford donated a bunch of shields.” 

Sidhu said she was shocked to find out equipment was not being distributed equally among healthcare workers in Detroit.

“When they do get PPE, no one really knows how it is getting distributed,” she said. “No one has a plentiful amount, but some people are not struggling and some people are.”

In an effort to raise money for PPE and 3D-face shield equipment, medical students teamed up with WSU student engineers, who are using 3D printers to produce face shields, and created a GoFundMe account.

“Now that the main campus is printing shields in such a large quantity, we are kind of reassessing what our role is in that, and realizing that we could have more power in purchasing directly from suppliers and providing those,” Sidhu said. “It is a lot of reaching out to manufacturers, figuring out what the logistics are, going through a vetting process… but it is doable and it is definitely worth it.”

Sidhu said the project was inspired by a newly established aid group in New York called N95forNYC — who’s raising money to supply healthcare professionals with necessary equipment during the pandemic. 

“It can be done. It has been done. We have invoices for 1000 N-95s right now. Our primary goal is to raise the money for that shipment,” she said. 

WSU graduate Hassan Tokko, a medical resident at Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, said more than half of the hospital’s floors are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.

He said it’s difficult for people to receive treatment for anything other than the virus right now. 

“I don’t think anyone was prepared for this — you can kind of tell,” Tokko said. “All hospitals were doing their best to prepare for what was going to happen, and are now putting in policies, but I don’t think anyone has done a perfect job for the huge influx of COVID-19 patients.”

On April 3, Beaumont Health implemented a policy that automatically considers employees who refuse to treat COVID-19 patients to have resigned from their job, and they will not be eligible for re-employment, according to The Detroit News. 

Tokko said the new policy implemented by Michigan’s largest healthcare system was necessary during this time.

Medical students around the country have been advised to end all direct patient contact until April 14 due to the pandemic, according to a statement released by the Association of American Medical Colleges.