When Ellen Lubbers first decided to try to help the doctors and nurses of Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center line up child care for their kids, whose schools had suddenly closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, she didn’t realize just how much help they actually needed.
On March 14, Lubbers, a 30-year-old third-year OSU medical student, saw a small commotion sparked by a tweet from one of her classmates: Because clinical rotations had been canceled, the classmate had offered her services as a babysitter to any doctor or nurse. Other students immediately jumped in with similar offers, and Lubbers wondered if one central, shareable document might be more helpful than a disjointed smattering of tweets.
Lubbers set up a Google Doc, where, with permission, she listed the contact information of other interested students. “I sent the link to one person, a clinician who’s a mom,” Lubbers told me. “I said, ‘If you think this would be helpful to anybody, please share it.’” Within hours, some of the first students who had signed up were sending panicked emails to Lubbers: They had been swamped, already, with more requests from health-care workers than they could handle.
As COVID-19 cases multiply all over the United States, the influx of new hospital patients has put a strain on medical centers’ resources—of both the material variety and the human. In New York State, where it’s estimated that nearly half of America’s confirmed coronavirus cases are located, hospital staffs are spread so thin that Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have called on retired doctors and nurses to form a “medical reserve” force. Many if not most primary-care physicians and hospital staffers are at work much more than usual, and some are even living apart from their families to protect them from exposure. Meanwhile, the infrastructure that usually provides care for their kids (schools and day cares) have mostly closed. As a result, many health-care workers are facing an impossible choice between caring for victims of a pandemic and caring for their own children at home. Other people whose job or education has been put on hold by the pandemic have rushed to fill the vacuum and help these parents get the assistance they need—but even that presents a number of challenges.