Wuhan Natives Living in the Bay Area Organize Long-Distance Coronavirus Relief

Feb 14, 2020

There are 15 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in the United States, compared with more than 40,000 in China, where the virus first surfaced in Wuhan City. There are also thousands of graduates from Wuhan-based universities who call the Bay Area home.

So on January 23, when Chinese officials locked down the city in an effort to contain the COVID-19 virus, Tom Gong sprung into action in the South Bay.

Gong, who attended university in Wuhan and now lives in San Jose, connected online with fellow alumni and others with ties to the city of 11 million people to figure out how to help.

“The lockdown really sent a signal to us that [the] situation is very, very bad,” Gong said, “So we acted quickly.”

Gong says the the group, now called Wuhan United, began as four or five individuals and expanded to more than 30 people in a week.

“We need to work together to send much needed medical supplies from [the] U.S. to China to help the hospitals in Wuhan,” he said.

The team, which often discusses plans over WeChat or Zoom video, mostly includes graduates from two universities: Huazhong University of Science and Technology, where Gong studied, and Wuhan University.

Zongchao Li, who handles communications for Wuhan United, said the group kept hearing reports from family and friends in Wuhan about nurses and doctors working around the clock with little rest and dwindling supplies.

“It gets very emotional for everybody,” Li said. “And it’s our hometown. You know, we care. And we just want to do what we can to help them.”

29 pallets of medical supplies, weighing more than three tons, were delivered to Wuhan’s Tongji Hospital on Feb. 11, 2020. (Courtesy of Wuhan United)

Wuhan United partners with nonprofits like Direct Relief to deliver protective gear like gloves and masks to hospitals treating patients and working to containing the outbreak.

Gong said these relief organizations have the supplies, but need help navigating the logistics of making sure these shipments from the U.S. get into the hands of health workers in Wuhan.

That’s where Wuhan United comes in.

The group helps with paperwork like customs forms and legal documents that donors need to sign in order for hospitals to receive the supplies.

Gong said his experience doing business in China, along with the group’s contacts in Wuhan’s government, industry and health care sectors, has helped make their work possible.

Once the shipments arrive in China via FedEx, Li said, the group’s network of family and friends in Wuhan help coordinate delivery to  hospitals in the area.

The first shipment arranged by Wuhan United contained 17 pallets  of medical supplies that weighed about about 2.5 tons. It arrived at Wuhan Union Hospital on January 31, just over a week after the group first rallied online.

In several shipments, Gong estimated they’ve  delivered more than 1 million items of protective equipment. The team is preparing another scheduled to depart on Monday.

Gong, who was born in Wuhan, said the effects of the Wuhan coronavirus will likely “trickle down to all corners of society.” He has brothers still living in the city and his wife has sisters working in hospitals there.

“No one is prepared to handle this kind of situation,” he said. “People in Wuhan are suffering. We really appreciate [if] you can understand more about their life and help them as much as you can.”

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