Strength in numbers: KU community joins forces to limit coronavirus’ spread

Everywhere you look, Jayhawks are coming together and rising to today’s challenges. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is felt across the U.S. and the world, students, alumni, faculty, and staff from the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences are bringing their expertise to the frontlines and supporting vulnerable populations, applying their diverse talents in labs, hospitals, non-profits, kitchens, essential businesses, and home work stations to address the spread of the novel coronavirus and provide relief within our communities. There’s strength in numbers, and if there’s one thing we know to be true, it’s that incredible things happen when Jayhawks come together with a common goal. Here are just a few examples of incredible work that’s being done by members of our community in the Heart of KU.

Alum helps develop coronavirus test at Johns Hopkins to increase speed of results

Heba Mostafa (front) and Karen Carroll. Photo credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Heba Mostafa, who earned her doctorate in microbiology from KU in 2014, helped develop a new test for the novel coronavirus as part of a research team at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, where she serves as the director of the molecular virology lab and an assistant professor of pathology. Results from the test currently take 24 hours, but Mostafa and her team aim to cut the wait time to “as little as three hours,” CBS News reports.

Alum leads efforts to feed Douglas County communities

As the effects of the contagion continue to ripple across communities, food banks are doing their best to keep up with increased demand. At Just Food, located just northeast of 11th and Haskell in Lawrence, College alumna Elizabeth Keever, who graduated with a bachelor’s in political science in 2011, and her team of staff and volunteers are banding together to combat food insecurity in Douglas County one meal at a time, as they do year-round. Learn more about Keever, who works as the director of the non-profit, and the crucial ways that Just Food is reducing hunger in Douglas County in our Hawks to Watch profile from 2019.

Student-led campaign seeks to provide aid for workers on the frontlines in Colombia

When Camila Ordóñez Vargas, a political science and economics double-major, traveled to spend spring break with her family in her home country of Colombia, she never imagined that she would be unable to return to finish her junior year in Lawrence. Now facing this unexpected new reality, she’s finding ways to help alleviate the impact of the crisis in Colombia as the country grapples with social and economic uncertainties.

On April 2, Vargas posted a music video on YouTube to raise funds to provide 5,000 lunches to the volunteers, nurses, doctors, and low-income citizens in her home town of Barranquilla. To build on the momentum sparked by the video, which has been viewed more than 2,000 times, she then launched the LOCOMBIA campaign, which she describes as “the home of dreamers who not only believe but also work for a better tomorrow… the origin of the wit and creativity that characterizes us, Colombians, where the joy of our culture is born.”

KU’s Create program donates fabric to volunteers

And in Lawrence, KU students are combining efforts in their communities. As directors of the KU Center for Community Outreach’s Create program, College students Josh Ng, a senior studying human biology and Spanish, and Grace Brunner, a junior studying English and political science, are leading the organization’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 by giving away fabric to volunteers who want to make and donate face masks. For more information about how you can get involved with Create’s volunteer work, visit this page.

Departments come together to donate supplies

In March, KU researchers from the following departments joined forces to help fight the spread of the novel coronavirus by donating supplies for testing: Anthropology, the Biodiversity Institute & Natural History Museum, Chemistry, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Environmental Engineering, Health, Sport & Exercise Sciences, Kansas Biological Survey, Molecular Biosciences, Pharmacology & Toxicology, and Physics & Astronomy. By Monday, March 23, they had gathered approximately 20,000 columns that can be used to test samples, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

The widespread community support from KU departments showed no signs of letting up as we moved into mid-April. On April 9, the Department of Chemistry donated 200 boxes of gloves and 50 splash goggles to Heartland Community Health Center in Lawrence and 450 boxes of gloves to Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health to aid their response to COVID-19. The next day, on April 10, the university’s Public Safety Office loaded up trucks of personal protective equipment donated by the Department of Molecular Biosciences and delivered the supplies to Lawrence Douglas County Public Health.

Coronavirus expert informs the public about risks of COVID-19

Anthony Fehr, an assistant professor in the KU Department of Molecular Biosciences, has been studying coronaviruses for more than eight years. From the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, Fehr has been keeping a busy schedule of interviews and speaking engagements, helping inform the public about the virus’ nature and preventative measures to curb its spread. In February, he was included in a panel of health experts discussing “Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction” in front of an audience at Marvin Hall, and as the novel virus has rapidly spread throughout the United States he’s been interviewed by a wide range of media outlets about the shocking speed of the contagion, the federal government’s response to the crisis, and what to expect next.

Linguistics staff member sews face masks for community

Healthcare providers, first responders, and essential workers across the U.S. are facing a shortage of supplies, including limited access to protective gear like face masks. To help the heroes on the frontlines of the pandemic, as well as other individuals for whom supplies are not readily available, Corinna Johnson, an office manager and academic administrative professional in the Department of Linguistics, is doing her part by fashioning cloth masks for “anyone and everyone who requests them – essential workers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, at risk individuals, families, students, delivery drivers, professors, teachers,” and anybody else in need.

At first, Johnson was sewing masks on her own, but after receiving an enthusiastic response to a post on her Facebook page, her mother, DeLois Hussli, came to her rescue and starting sewing as well. “There was no way we were going to turn anyone away,” Johnson said. “That just isn’t how our family operates.”

So far, the mother-daughter team have donated over 350 masks and are still going strong. Johnson even keeps a stash in her purse just in case she runs into anyone in need during a trip to the grocery store. As she sees it, any action one can take to help flatten the curve is worthwhile right now. “Even though as a country we are social distancing and in isolation, we need to find ways to come together and help each other through this tough time. I simply wanted to try to help in some small way.”

Paying it forward with baked goods

And in the College dean’s office, administrative affairs coordinator Jill Mignacca has been lifting spirits during the pandemic through food. In April, she baked almost 400 muffins and rolls for two organizations that provide services for the homeless and survivors of domestic abuse, causes that have a strong personal connection for Mignacca. “Just over ten years ago, I left an abusive husband,” she said. “The first few months I didn’t have a permanent address, often didn’t have money for groceries.” But during those tough times, she was able to rely on the kindness of a group of close friends. “I was incredibly fortunate,” she continued. “Honestly, just trying to pay that kindness forward. I can’t ever repay my friends for what they did for me, but will sure spend the rest of my days trying.”

From all of us in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, thank you! For the latest news, visit the College’s Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information page.