Chinese American group turns to relatives for help getting masks

The Association of Chinese Professionals has been gathering PPE for hospitals and other facilities. PHOTO: Provided

For the past two weeks, anytime she hasn’t been working, Yilei Zhu has been confined to her bedroom, away from her husband and kids.

Zhu, a physical therapist at Abington Hospital, hasn’t treated any COVID-19 patients, but she doesn’t want to take any chances.

“I don’t want to hurt my family in any way,” Zhu said.

She is a member of the Association of Chinese Professionals, and, after she told her friends in the group about the situation, the organization decided it wanted to do something to help healthcare workers and give back to the community.

They’ve heard about the well-known shortage of personal protective equipment, and Zhu informed them that she is given only one surgical mask a day.

As for N95 masks, which offer more protection against the coronavirus, Zhu said she has been told to keep using one for days, until it is soiled.

So ACP, which has members in Philadelphia and its suburbs, decided to collect masks, gloves and other supplies to distribute to hospitals.

Hal Li, the organization’s founder, said most members are first-generation Chinese Americans, so they have been asking their relatives and other connections in China to send masks to the United States. They have also sourced materials locally.

“We cannot get a ventilator, but we can get something,” Li said.

ACP has distributed more than 40 boxes since March 20 to Abington Hospital, local nursing homes and Main Line Health, which operates several hospitals in Montgomery and Delaware counties. It is working to coordinate more deliveries.

As of Tuesday, the ACP has donated just over 40 boxes of masks, gloves and other supplies. PHOTO: Provided

Other organizations, including the Tredyffrin/Easttown School District Chinese Parents Association, Lower Merion Chinese Association and the Greater Philadelphia Self-Defense Association, have chipped in to help the effort, according to Li.

Li founded the ACP more than 20 years ago as a way to bring together Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. for graduate studies and did not have many family and friends in the country.

The association, which now has nearly 6,000 members, organizes activities and holiday parties and includes people who work in the science, technology and medical sectors, as well as those in work in other industries.

Asian Americans have reportedly had to deal with an increase in hate crimes and harassment in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Until recently, President Donald Trump was controversially calling coronavirus the “Chinese virus.”

Li said he hasn’t experienced any harassment, and he hasn’t heard from his association’s members about any incidents. He said he can see how people could turn their anger over the virus and its effects at Asian Americans.

“It’s not right, but, people in this special situation, it is understandable,” Li said.

He hopes ACP’s work collecting PPE is able to bring a measure of unity.

“We want to show our local people, our neighbors, we are together with you,” Li said.

The campaign’s slogan, “Social distancing, we win; United, we stand,” is a nod to that goal.

Zhu, who has been working with Li on the effort, considers herself lucky because her kids are 16 and 18 years old, so they are pretty self-sufficient.

She knows she’ll be called into a COVID-19 room soon to help craft a discharge plan for a patient who is still infected with the virus.

“Even though there’s a shortage, we still try to get as much protection as we can before we enter the COVID-positive rooms,” she said.

For more information on the donation drive, visit acp-phila.org.

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