Elise Amendola/AP Photo
Nurses walk at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Elise Amendola/AP Photo
Libby Wetterer was used to the lifestyle of a busy medical student. In her fourth year at Georgetown Medical School, Wetterer was rotating at the ICU at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital — that is, until the coronavirus began to spread locally. Medical schools went online, and Wetterer's rotations were halted.
Faced with a lighter schedule, Wetterer and seven medical students at Georgetown, George Washington and Howard universities decided to alleviate some of the stress health care workers were facing as they juggled their professional lives without the support of schools and daycares.
The students formed DC COVID Sitters, an initiative that matches local students with health care workers looking for child care and help with other errands. Since launching, DC COVID Sitters has expanded to include undergraduate and graduate students in any field who are willing to help providers.
"We're really used to being busy and like seeing a problem and engaging with it ... so this was a really great way for us to organize students at different institutions who are all really willing and ready to help," Wetterer says.
Similar initiatives popped up around the country in Minnesota, Michigan, New York and Boston.
Here's how it works: Students fill out an online form with their availability, the ages of children they feel comfortable babysitting, and other tasks they can assist with. Health care workers also sign up and specify the help they need. Volunteer sitters are matched with one family at a time, and have a two-week waiting period before assisting another family.
Students are asked to continue best practices to stop the potential spread of the coronavirus, including frequent hand washing, maintaining physical distancing and wearing masks, when appropriate. All child care takes place in the homes of the health care workers.
"We wanted to help in a way that was going to be effective and not crowding the hospital," says Moena Nishikawa, a third-year medical student at George Washington University.
And the assistance isn't just for doctors — anyone affiliated with regional hospitals can reach out, including custodial staff.
"We're trying to open this up to anyone who has a high need. So not just like attending physicians, but also residents, nurses, medical assistants," Nishikawa says.
More than 150 volunteers have signed up to so far, and 30 families are using the student-run service. Wetterer says volunteers have acknowledged the risk associated with meeting with anyone outside of their immediate family members. But they still want to help.
"We think it's important to support the workforce as much as we can," Wetterer says. "This [pandemic] has shown how many things are necessary to keep the country going. And there are some risks we need to take to keep the country going."
DC COVID Sitters are also able to help workers with grocery runs, pet care and other errands — anything they can do to support health care workers behind the scenes.