When neuroscience junior Anvita Suneja and human biology junior Shivam Chandra learned that hospitals would begin receiving funding and personal protective equipment (PPE), they realized this funding left out what they felt was an important group of people: nursing home workers.
“My sister is a resident at Henry Ford,” Suneja said. “So, I saw and heard from her firsthand just how many shortages there were of PPE. Luckily, now, a lot of hospitals are funded by the government and are being provided with masks, but still, nursing homes are not.”
The two co-directors created the Spartan Mask Initiative (SMI), an MSU student community service group that raises money to purchase KN-95 masks to donate to healthcare professionals working in nursing homes in the Detroit area.
KN-95 is the Chinese code for masks that stop the infiltration of 95% of particles greater than 0.3 microns in size. These masks are similar in efficiency and shape to N-95 — the U.S. code.
The Spartan Mask Initiative is affiliated with a larger organization called the Michigan Indian American Community Service Group (MICS) made up of more than 100 volunteers — 25 of which are youth volunteers with the mission of uniting the Indian American community to assist local front-line workers.
Currently, SMI is made up of 70 volunteers and has raised around $1,500 in their first week of fundraising since May 7, Suneja said. For MICS, the original fundraising goal was $15,000.
“As the organization’s gotten larger, we’re all hoping to branch out and start talking to some of our front-line workers and emergency departments like police officers, fire fighters and everything," Suneja said. "Honestly, there’s no set goal anymore. We’re just looking to raise as much money as we can and provide KN-95 masks to as many people as we can. The more, the better.”
With the shortage of PPE, many nursing home professionals are at the risk of cross contamination and contracting COVID-19.
“Nurses in Detroit nursing homes are having to reuse these masks multiple times,” Chandra said. “They’re not really being protective while they’re sacrificing their own life to be one of our front-line workers. We’re supposed to be social distancing, so we can’t go out and ‘hands-on’ help, but what we can do is help raise funds for these KN-95 masks so the nurses themselves can be protected, and we can spread our cause and help the community out as much as we can.”
Chandra said he believes now is the perfect opportunity for students to get involved.
“While sitting at home right now; we’re not doing anything,” Chandra said. “Our goals are to contribute and raise as much money as possible for the KN-96 masks and support our important front-line workers in the Detroit nursing homes. We just want to keep raising money as Spartans.”
The Spartan Mask Initiative plans to expand into the Lansing area and also begin helping other essential workers such as police officers, firefighters, food bank workers and other community service groups during this time, Chandra said.
“The Michigan Indian Community Service Group that we're working with has a separate committee for making masks out of cloth, so cloth masks,” Suneja said. “So, eventually we hope to expand to raise money for that initiative for the making of masks and providing them to the community overall.”
As STEM majors, both of the co-directors said they wouldn’t want to be put in the situation of risking their lives due to a lack of PPE and hope that students will support the cause.
“I just wanted to put myself in their shoes and see what they would want,” Chandra said. “I think this is something really, really important that will help them by protecting themselves and protecting their loved ones and protecting the senior citizens of the nursing homes.”