As the leader of the only four-year university in the Cowboy State, University of Wyoming Acting President Neil Theobald feels an obligation to help lead the state through a period of tremendous uncertainty. And, despite UW moving to remote learning for the remainder of the semester amid a worldwide pandemic, administration and staff remain busy doing their part to help the state in its battle against COVID-19.
A number of UW programs and groups have contributed to the state’s response in battling COVID-19 in a plethora of ways, whether it be collecting necessary supplies, providing in-person assistance at clinics or just being a shoulder to figuratively lean on. Among the ways UW is helping the community are:
• The School of Pharmacy has produced hand sanitizer for local fire stations and clinics in need
• A UW medical supply drive has gathered more than 34,000 in gloves, goggles, gowns and other essential supplies
• The UW Wyoming Telehealth Network is connecting health care providers with patients to answer questions and diagnosis coronavirus
• The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is helping collect necessary supplies for coronavirus test kits for the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory
• The Student Innovation Center has produced 3D printed surgical masks for 19 different places in need across the state.
• Students at the College of Health and Sciences have volunteered at the Educational Health Center of Wyoming to help screen patients and run errands for the elderly.
• The Associated Students of Social Work have sponsored Supportive Talk and Resources or those struggling and need someone to talk to.
“As Wyoming’s flagship and land-grant university, UW has an obligation to serve the people of the state during this difficult time. I couldn’t be prouder of how our faculty, staff and students have responded,” Theobald said. “We continue to look for ways to help our state with the pandemic response, and we’re already focusing on how we can best assist Wyoming communities in the post-pandemic recovery.”
The UW School of Pharmacy has produced at least 30-40 gallons of hand sanitizer for local fire stations, health clinics, UW student health services and custodial services and for Ivinson Memorial Hospital. A pharmacy lab was turned into a makeshift factory for sanitizer, which has run low across the nation. The sanitizer is made from alcohol, glycerin and hydrogen peroxide provided by UW’s chemical stockroom.
The Wyoming Technology Coronavirus Coalition (WTCC) organized a supply drive at UW that collected more than 33,000 gloves, more than 700 masks and hundreds of safety goggles and gowns. The WTCC is made up of more than 200 members, many of whom are on staff at UW or are students. The supplies are being distributed throughout Laramie, Albany County and the state as a whole. The drive was organized by WTCC member Samantha Alford, a UW masters student in zoology and physiology. The WTCC also held a supply drive in Casper.
The Wyoming Telehealth Network, established in 2016 and located at the university, helps local health care providers extend their services online by providing Zoom licenses, technical support, training and more. Doing so allows patients to receive medical advice remotely rather than in-person.
The Wyoming Telehealth Network said it saw an increase in web traffic of nearly 750% between February and March. A whopping 1,613 new enrollments have occurred since March 1, and 1,192 health care professionals are currently using the service, Wyoming Telehealth Network director Canyon Hardesty said.
“We plan to continue working and collaborating with state agencies, public and private organizations, and providers to ensure a cohesive approach to improving care throughout the state of Wyoming and being a model for the nation,” Hardesty said.
Meanwhile, the UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has helped provide more than 4,000 conical tubes, a necessary component of COVID-19 testing, among other resources, to the Wyoming Public Health Laboratory.
The WPHL is able to turn test results around in approximately seven hours, among the fastest times in the nation, due in part to 15 emergency hires, many who are current or former UW College of Agriculture and Natural Resources students.
The UW Student Innovation Center, in conjunction with the WTCC, initially 3D printed 100 surgical masks and 100 face shields for the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center; 22 medical facilities around the state have since requested more than 1,000 combined pieces. There are a total of 30 3D printers being used, with 16 on loan from other UW departments and additional schools. Since March 27, a total of 715 parts (masks or face shields) have been created in the joint venture, with at least 444 having been produced at UW’s Student Innovation Center. A facemask can take two to four hours to make, while a face shield can take one to four hours, according to Innovation Center makerspace coordinator Tyler Kerr.
“We recognized, as did many other makerspaces across the world, the critical role that 3D printing could play as part of the short-term pandemic response. Not as a permanent solution, but a temporary one while PPE manufacturing companies caught up to nationwide demand,” Kerr said. “It’s our goal to continue to 3D print protective equipment as long as the medical community asks us to. Until there’s no longer a need, we’ll keep at it.”
Students at UW’s College of Health Sciences are chipping at the Educational Health Center of Wyoming by helping screen patients at the door. If they possess COVID-19 symptoms, they are then either given an appointment to be tested or one to receive a telehealth call. Students are also aiding the elderly by running errands for them, including grocery shopping.
UW’s social work students are doing their part as well by staying in contact with members of the community who wish to have a source of communication during social-distancing. The service, called Supportive Talk and Resources (STAR), is free of charge. The student volunteers either text, call, video chat or email those who want to be contacted.
Kym Codallos, a UW Division of Social Work faculty member who works with STAR, said there are around 50 student volunteers at the moment, though that number is constantly growing, she said. Codallos said she does a preliminary screening over the phone before pairing a volunteer with the patient, with usual communication between the pair happening about once per week. Codallos stressed that STAR is not intended to be a substitute for therapy or counseling.
Those interested in the STAR services can contact 307-766-5490.
“We no longer can go about our lives the way that we have been, and we are not able to have our usual social connections,” Codallos said. “We felt that it was a good fit to connect individuals and provide socialization and support.”