UF veterinary college’s efforts yield vehicles full of protective gear for front-line teams

Packed minivan

A minivan is shown packed full of donated personal protective equipment from UFCVM research labs and a student surgery lab prior to delivery to UF Health.

By Sarah Carey

Before the UF College of Veterinary Medicine was asked by UF Health to donate extra personal protective equipment to  health workers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the college’s leadership team anticipated such a request.

“Maybe a month before everything happened, our internal leadership team, led by Dr. (Dana) Zimmel, our interim dean, had discussed that veterinarians would likely be tapped to provide equipment such as PPE, and even ventilators,” said Chris Adin, D.V.M., chair of the college’s department of small animal clinical sciences. “We were asked to inventory PPE in areas we thought would be useful.”

Adin immediately thought of his department’s student surgery labs, where routine spays and neuters are performed on shelter animals. In these labs, one class of 120 students typically gains experience in spay-neuter surgery, with students split into small groups and rotating positions as procedures are provided to about 14 animals at a time.

“That’s a lot of sterile surgical gowns, sterile caps and sterile drapes to do these elective surgeries,” said Adin, a small animal surgeon himself. “We end up doing nearly 100 spays and neuters, but they involve more than the normal amount of  PPE, between students and multiple instructors all scrubbed in.”

When the student surgery lab was converted to an online format in mid-March, a certain amount of unused PPE was left. Adin asked surgery technician Cat Monger to inventory those sterile supplies and to box all of it up so it was ready to go.

In the meantime, a grassroots effort was already underway by Maureen Long, D.V.M., Ph.D., a professor of infectious diseases in the college’s department of comparative, diagnostic and population medicine. Working with fellow faculty members from the Emerging Pathogens Institute and other colleagues from the college, she put the word out that she was collecting PPE supplies and worked with her contacts at UF Health to arrange for two deliveries.

“It was amazing, because I had about a two-hour window to collect supplies and we filled a whole pick-up truck with donations from several faculty, while others sent supplies independently,” Long said.

While the surgery lab equipment consisted of sterile supplies, such as items used for surgery, college researchers donated items such as particle-filtering N95 masks used for research purposes, along with goggles, face shields, cleaning supplies, hand antiseptic, sleeve covers and additional gloves and waterproof gowns, on top of plastic booties, overalls and polypropylene lab coats.

Between the initial grassroots effort and a more centralized leadership effort that came later, culminating in a minivan full of supplies that Adin delivered to a designated spot at UF Health on April 3, nearly all PPE at the college — with the exception of that conserved at the UF Veterinary Hospitals for patients continuing to be seen — had been handed over to protect doctors, nurses and other health workers caring for patients hospitalized for the highly infectious coronavirus.

“The only unfilled spot in that minivan was the driver’s seat that I sat in,” Adin said. “It took a good four overloaded carts to remove everything from the vehicle and take it inside of the UF Health Cancer Center, which had an area designated for receiving.”

Long said there was clearly an overwhelming need, and that it was gratifying to be able to donate and to see so much participation from so many faculty members and their labs. Donations from four of the college’s five departments—comparative, diagnostic and population medicine; infectious diseases and immunology; large animal clinical sciences and small animal clinical sciences — filled the minivan, and a separate load from the department of physiological sciences was delivered independently.

“I wish we had more to give,” Long said. “It’s amazing what you find that you can spare, once you start looking.”