Even in the midst of a pandemic, and facing unprecedented changes to their school curriculum and social lives, students at McGovern Medical School are finding ways to give back and support their community.

More impressively, they are doing it all while social distancing.

“Individuals who go into medical school are typically an altruistic bunch, and I think it’s natural for us to find a way to help even if we can’t join our faculty in the hospital,” said third-year medical student Michael Bagg. “We want to support our faculty and residents without further contributing to the problem.”

The Medical School switched to an all online curriculum after students returned from spring break in March, leading to unparalleled levels of free time for medical students. So, Bagg partnered with fellow students Helen Burks, Bili Yin, and Kyle Meissner to take advantage of their newfound spare time and create the Covert Undercover Virus Response Team (CUVRT).

“Our community is in a really bad place right now, and I think it is important that those of us who are able to step up do so,” Burks said, third-year medical student. “I really hate feeling helpless, and seeing my friends and family in the health care field battling this disease without proper protective equipment made me feel just that.”

CUVRT is dedicated to collecting extra personal protective equipment from local businesses and donating those items to health care professionals fighting on the front lines of the pandemic. The organization has reached out to more than 100 companies around the Houston area through phone calls and emails to encourage donations to local hospital and health care facilities.

Aside from helping to protect the front-line health care works, CURVT has also developed ways to ease the burden of attending physicians and residents on the home front.

“After students were mandated to stay at home, we were trying to think of ways we could support the faculty from afar,” Yin said, third-year McGovern medical student. “We knew that our faculty, fellows, and residents were going to be increasingly spread thin in the coming weeks, and since local schools were shut down, many providers we spoke with were having difficulty finding childcare.”

As students found themselves faced with increasing amounts of free time, Yin said this seemed like the perfect opportunity to help, even though their new task was not health care, or clinically related.

“McGovern students were eager to donate their time to help,” Yin said. “We matched student volunteers with faculty, fellows, and residents to provide needed service such as childcare, pet-sitting, or errands until normal operations can resume.”

With the help of Jennifer L. Swails, MD, FACP, assistant professor of internal medicine, and Hilary Fairbrother, MD, MPH, associate professor of emergency medicine, the group was able to connect medical students with 26 faculty members in each respective department with the potential to add more. Additionally, the group plans to set up an online tutoring service for children of faculty using virtual services such as Zoom or WebEx, which will continue until medical students return to the classroom or clinics.

Though times may be confusing and uncertain, the caring nature and willingness to help from McGovern Medical School students remains a constant.

“Like most McGovern students,” Yin said. “It was important to me to be able to contribute wherever I was needed in the community that has supported me for three years.”