Campus News

UB sends supplies to Erie County to support COVID-19 testing

Test swab and tube.

The UB community mobilized to send swabs and ethanol to Erie County for COVID-19 testing.

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published March 24, 2020

“It feels good to be part of a university that is so connected to the surrounding community. Of course, everyone wants to help their neighbors, friends and family. This is a unique way that, as researchers, we are in a position to help.”
Denise Ferkey, associate professor
Department of Biological Sciences

Amid a nationwide shortage of materials, the UB community mobilized last week to send laboratory supplies to Erie County to support local testing for COVID-19.

After obtaining a list of items the county could use, Gerald Koudelka in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Dean’s Office put out a call for materials via email. Researchers across the university amplified the message, forwarding information to colleagues and Tweeting out the plea for supplies.

That was on the morning of Friday, March 20.

By the afternoon, Jay Roorbach, UB’s senior emergency planning coordinator, was delivering 250 nasopharyngeal swabs and six pints of molecular biology-grade ethanol to grateful colleagues at Erie County. These supplies — just two of the many materials needed for COVID-19 testing — are in high demand as communities nationwide look to ramp up testing capacity.

“This was a high-priority request that ended up coming to us through official channels from Erie County, and we were pleased to be able to offer assistance,” Roorbach says. “We will not always be able to fulfill such requests, as we have a process of resource management in place and need to ensure that UB has high-priority supplies on hand to support important operations, including those related to the pandemic. But in this case, we were able to quickly identify some items Erie County needed and send those to our colleagues there.”

“It feels good to be part of a university that is so connected to the surrounding community. Of course, everyone wants to help their neighbors, friends and family. This is a unique way that, as researchers, we are in a position to help,” says Denise Ferkey, associate professor of biological sciences, who initiated the collection effort after hearing about a similar endeavor at Stanford University from Arnd Pralle, UB professor of physics.

After learning about efforts at other universities, Ferkey asked Koudelka about the possibility of putting out a call to other researchers at UB.

Koudelka, professor of biological sciences and associate dean for research and sponsored programs in the College of Arts and Sciences, moved forward with emails to UB colleagues after connecting with the Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development and confirming supply needs with Erie County.

What followed was an outpouring of support.

Gathering supplies

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, university employees who receive requests for donations or supplies from UB should contact the emergency management team at emergencymanagement@buffalo.edu.

The team is working closely with partners across the region to respond to the crisis. When requests for donations are received, UB’s emergency management team will work with affected departments to assess UB’s inventory and determine what level of support can be provided.

Members of the public who are not UB employees should contact their local or county emergency services offices if they have supplies to donate or receive requests for donations.

“The response was overwhelming,” Koudelka says.

People across the university mobilized. Staff and faculty shared the emails and put out calls on social media. Lisa Martin in the Division of Comparative Medicine helped coordinate collection of nasopharyngeal swabs. The ethanol came from the Biochemistry Stockroom, part of the Department of Biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, Roorbach’s team is working closely with partners across the region to respond to the crisis. He has access to a centralized portal where agencies and jurisdictions across Erie County can put out calls for materials and equipment, and UB will continue to review and respond to those official requests when the university is able to help, he says.

University employees who receive requests for donations or supplies from UB should contact the emergency management team at emergencymanagement@buffalo.edu.