Students join global effort to solve PPE shortage

Western students Betty Wang, left, English Literature/Ivey HBA, and Amy Wang, Computer Science/Ivey HBA, are part of the Find the Masks Canada national outreach team.

Witnessing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) across the country, a pair of Western students have become matchmakers in an attempt to address the need.

As part of the Find the Masks Canada national outreach team, Betty Wang, an English Literature/Ivey HBA student, and Amy Wang, a Computer Science/Ivey HBA student, are part of a social media team connecting organizations in need of PPE with donors and suppliers through a new crowd-sourced interactive mapping tool.

“We’re aiming to increase awareness of the PPE shortage in Canada and share the initiative’s impact through our various platforms,” Betty said. “The idea is to enable private citizens, communities, maker-space networks and large-scale manufacturers to engage and assist during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Originally founded in the United States, the Find the Masks initiative has expanded to Switzerland, Spain, France, UK, Portugal, India and Canada. Accessible in eight languages, the site has had more than 80,000 people visit from more than 100 countries.

The Canadian initiative began as a simple spreadsheet of health-care organizations in need. However, it quickly evolved into a mapping tool with more than 300 organizations seeking assistance with N95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, gowns, goggles and other items.

“Despite improvements in large-scale supplies being delivered to large urban centres, the needs are unequal across the country with some sites still indicating dire need,” Betty said.

“Without protection, front-line workers are at heightened risk of infection while treating patients with COVID-19. As the initiative grows, Find the Masks Canada hopes to bring awareness to the range of organizations with PPE needs, including long-term care facilities, shelters, rural medicine and Indigenous community clinics.”

Betty said new locations are being added on a daily basis as more health-care and community organizations learn about and register on the mapping tool.

“Since we are not even a month old, the rapid growth and varied geographical locations indicates the dire needs of organizations across our country for PPE, which may not be obvious to the public,” Betty said.