“In the war against the coronavirus, China has been fighting the first half, the world is fighting the second half, and the overseas Chinese are fighting the full course,” says Jing Yang, a Bristol Myers Squibb executive who also heads the 4,000-member Sino-American Pharmaceutical Professionals Association — Greater Philadelphia chapter.
Early in the pandemic, many in the Philly region sent donations to colleagues in China. Now the Chinese are reciprocating as deaths top 50,000 in the U.S.
Back in January, as word spread of jammed hospitals in Wuhan, central China, “we donated a lot of equipment to China,” recalled Jian Huang, a Temple pathology professor.
“I don’t think high-level leadership [in any country] realized at first how contagious this is,” he added. But frontline doctors and nurses whose hospitals filled with sick patients spread the word — to their international networks and to colleagues at home.
“At Temple, we have professors from all over China. We collected from our professor friends," including members of the Chinese American Academy of Cardiology, which she heads, and shipped N95 masks worth $170,000 to Wuhan “when staff were running critically low” in January and February, said Hong Wang, who trained in China, Canada, and at Harvard and now heads the Center for Metabolic Disease Research at Temple.
Then in March, as U.S. cases began to soar, came a kind of payback.
Wang’s contacts in Wuhan and friends in Beijing and elsewhere “came back to me without asking," she said. "Hundreds of smaller and bigger packages” began arriving from China-based medical professionals to friends in Philadelphia and other cities for donation to Temple University Hospital, where staff was using up gear fast.
Dr. Daowen Wang, Chair of Department of Medicine at Wuhan Tongji Hospital, which received the N95 masks from the cardiologists when it was hard hit in the initial spread of COVID-19, “immediately shipped protective material supply" to Temple after the outbreak in the U.S., Hong Wang added.
And there were more. “I called it ‘many ants moving,’ ” Wang said of the response.
“They were telling us, ‘We want to pay back, for the training we had at Temple,’ ” added her Temple colleague Huang.
“It is our turn to help our American friends,” wrote Yuling Zhang, cardiologist at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hospital in Guangzhou, southern China, and one of Hong Wang’s past Temple students. Zhang sent several packages of protective gear. A Mr. Ding, friend of Temple opthalmologist Yi Zhang, mailed 50,000 PPE items in 100 personal packages.
Doctors tapped China friends to collect more than 70,000 medical, surgical, N95, and KN95 masks, 45,000 exam gloves, plus sanitizer, coveralls, and goggles worth more than $250,000. More drives are planned.
“The biggest part” of Temple’s donations came from China, Wang said.
Helping coronavirus responders is the right thing to do -- and also proves a point for Chinese medical and pharma professionals, says Bristol Myers’ Jing, who heads the Pan Asian Network for the drugmaker.
“You must be acutely aware of the alarming cases of anti-Asian incidents” blaming Asians for coronavirus since it was first identified in China, Jing said. She called the donations “heroic acts of love, ownership, and generosity” that “speak loudly against recent hostilities against Asians.”
“Some people call this a ‘Chinese virus.' I don’t like that," Temple’s Wang added. "We should investigate where this started in the future. But now is the time to protect our doctors and nurses who face death every day. They lack equipment. Some nurses quit because of the lack of equipment. This is the key thing now.”
They are also mobilizing in the suburbs. James Zhang, of Chester Springs, helps place Chinese students at U.S. high schools through his Lansdowne firm DENO International Education Consultants LLC.
Zhang had joined Chester County business delegations to China. In March he got a call from Chester County Economic Development Council Mike Grigalonis, seeking Zhang’s help in getting protective gear from China for police, ambulance, and hospital workers.
“My heart was touched by his words - ‘saving life,’ ” Zhang said, who rallied his employees in both countries. “We spent days and nights locating licensed companies certified the masks,” negotiating to shorten what makers warned were months-long deadlines, and arranging a total of 1,200 FedEx pickups and deliveries.
At one point he had to collect and post $50,000, later reimbursed by the county, to advance needed gear. “I was so stressed,” he said. “It was much harder than I expected." But he said his team was proud to help.
Daily FedEx and UPS shipments Zhang’s team arranged have been arriving at the county’s Public Safety Training Campus in South Coatesville, along with barrels of hand sanitizer made at Red Branch Distillery in Reading and half-gallon jugs from Wawa to put it in, Grigalonis said.
Heng You, head of the nonprofit Greater Philadelphia Chinese Cultural Center and the Guanghua Chinese Association, says her group and others in central Bucks County collected cash donations and brought meals from Chinese restaurants such as Jessica Tian’s Bamboo near Norristown, which remmain open for takeout, to give to staff at COVID-19 testing centers at hospitals in Phoenixville, Lansdale, and East Norriton.
The group bought 15,300 surgical masks and 2,800 N95 masks, and gave to medical offices across the suburbs, and Bucks County police.
In Philadelphia, Ken Wong and Jeff Ji, from China-America trade consultant NavPac Advisors, planned Friday to donate 5,000 “three-ply surgical masks” from the Chinese industrial city of Harbin to SEPTA workers via Transport Workers Union Local 234, and invited City Councilmember David Oh along. Local president Willie Brown had threatened a job action this week as drivers and other staff at the reduced-schedule transit network continue to report new cases of coronavirus.