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St. Louis Med Students Launch COVID-19 Volunteer Effort

Anthony Brooks, third-year medical student at Washington University, calls a patient to tell them they have tested negative for COVID-19. Though most are not able to care directly for coronavirus patients, many med students are helping in other ways.
Bruin Pollard | Washington University
Anthony Brooks, third-year medical student at Washington University, calls a patient to tell them they have tested negative for COVID-19. Though most are not able to care directly for coronavirus patients, many med students are helping in other ways.

Cyrus Ghaznavi is supposed to be studying for his final exams — but like other students, he’s having trouble focusing in the midst of a global pandemic. 

“It feels so insignificant to be studying out of a textbook, when on the front lines, health care is basically evolving at a mile a minute,” said Ghaznavi, a medical student at Washington University. 

As the virus spreads rapidly through cities, many medical students have been pulled from their clinical rotations due to worries over possible exposure. While not able to care for COVID-19 patients, a growing number of med students in St. Louis are volunteering to help in other ways.

Co-organizers Ghaznavi, Christopher Chermside-Scabbo and Bruin Pollard have developed a network of volunteer med students to provide needed services in the community.

For these students, watching respected mentors and colleagues rush into harm’s way has been difficult. 

“They’re risking their lives to help all of us,” said Chermside-Scabbo, a fifth-year student in a joint M.D./Ph.D. program at Wash U. “Taking any burden possible off of them is the least we could do.”

Kelsie Kodama, a first-year medical student at Washington University, assembles 3D-printed face shields at MADE in St. Louis.
Cyrus Ghaznavi | Washington University

With schools closed in Missouri and Illinois, many parents and caregivers are struggling to coordinate child care — particularly those working long hours outside the home, like hospital employees. 

“You don't want people to be worrying about their children when they're on the front lines of medicine,” Ghaznavi said. 

To fill this need, St. Louis medical students are offering in-home babysitting services for all health care professionals. Within the first 24 hours of the program's launch, more than 100 doctors and nurses enrolled online, Chermside-Scabbo said. 

So far, about 160 medical students have signed up to offer child care in St. Louis, and 50 have been matched with families.

The program is intended to be a safety net, Chermside-Scabbo said, not a full-time replacement for child care.

The students also are working to assist doctors and nurses in other ways — whether by building face shields, calling patients to inform them of negative COVID-19 test results or compiling short summaries of the latest research studies.

Meanwhile, others are offering “no-contact” grocery delivery to St. Louis residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus and those at higher risk, including the elderly and immunocompromised. The grocery delivery program is a collaboration with the nonprofit STL Food Angels.

With more students signing on to volunteer each day, Ghaznavi said, the program will continue to expand its reach in the community.

“I don't feel compelled to do anything else but this right now,” he said. “This is a historical event that's unraveling around us.”

Follow Shahla on Twitter: @shahlafarzan

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