Med students on how COVID pushed them into action, highlighted health care inequities

It was on a Saturday in mid-March when Abby Schiff, then a third-year medical student at Harvard working through surgery clinical rotations, found out she wouldn’t be going back to the hospital.



a group of people on a sidewalk: Medical student Francis Wright (top left) during a mask drive early on in the pandemic with his classmates (clockwise) India Perez-Urbano, Kara Lau, Lane Epps, Ninad Bhat, Laeesha Cornejo and Hunter Jackson, the last of whom came up with the idea.


© Courtesy Francis Wright
Medical student Francis Wright (top left) during a mask drive early on in the pandemic with his classmates (clockwise) India Perez-Urbano, Kara Lau, Lane Epps, Ninad Bhat, Laeesha Cornejo and Hunter Jackson, the last of whom came up with the idea.

She had worked the day before, but with the coronavirus threat growing quickly, Schiff, like thousands of other medical students across the country, was sidelined when the Association of American Medical Colleges issued a temporary suspension of clinical rotations in hopes of protecting students and patients, and conserving personal protective equipment (PPE).

She didn’t sit around waiting, though. As nurses came out of retirement and medical school professors pressed pause on teaching to answer the call to action on the front lines, Schiff also got to work. Within hours, she and a group of other students started building a crash course on COVID-19 for medical professionals.

“At the time, a lot of Harvard medical students were talking about what was going on, and [it] felt like we suddenly had a lot of time on our hands,” Schiff told ABC News. “There was this crisis going on. How can we best contribute?”



a woman standing in front of a book shelf: Abby Schiff, a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, helped to create the school's COVID-19 curriculum and still keeps it updated on a regular basis.


© ABC News
Abby Schiff, a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, helped to create the school’s COVID-19 curriculum and still keeps it updated on a regular basis.

In less than a week, 70 of Schiff’s colleagues, including students and faculty, had put together a comprehensive, open-source COVID-19 curriculum.

“So we had about 80 pages of content — all referenced, all freely available — including things like thought questions, quiz questions… helpful information about how to put on masks and PPE, run ventilators,” she said. “And then also an explainer about basic epidemiological terms, about sort of the basics of virology and immunology and the clinical manifestations that were known at the time.”

Seven months later, the curriculum is still being updated with the latest science on a regular basis. Today, it includes modules on mental health, global health and communication, all meant to “dispel misinformation and myths,” said Schiff.



graphical user interface, application: Fourth-year Harvard medical student Abby Schiff (second from top left) attends a video meeting with her fellow students to discuss updates to their school's open-source COVID-19 curriculum.


© Courtesy Abby Schiff
Fourth-year Harvard medical student Abby Schiff (second from top left) attends a video meeting with her fellow students to discuss updates to their school’s open-source COVID-19 curriculum.

As co-chair for outreach, she said her role is to reach out to students and groups that are using the curriculum to get an idea of their needs and how they can best be met, as well as recruiting students to contribute. The curriculum has already been implemented in 32 medical schools across the country as either an elective or mandatory course, and it has been translated into 27 languages and used in at least 110 countries, Schiff said.

“It’s had a really wide reach, including in areas where

Med students on how COVID-19 pushed them to take action, highlighted health care inequities

It was on a Saturday in mid-March when Abby Schiff, then a third-year medical student at Harvard working through surgery clinical rotations, found out she wouldn’t be going back to the hospital.

She had worked the day before, but with the coronavirus threat growing quickly, Schiff, like thousands of other medical students across the country, was sidelined when the Association of American Medical Colleges issued a temporary suspension of clinical rotations in hopes of protecting students and patients, and conserving personal protective equipment (PPE).

She didn’t sit around waiting, though. As nurses came out of retirement and medical school professors pressed pause on teaching to answer the call to action on the front lines, Schiff also got to work. Within hours, she and a group of other students started building a crash course on COVID-19 for medical professionals.

“At the time, a lot of Harvard medical students were talking about what was going on, and [it] felt like we suddenly had a lot of time on our hands,” Schiff told ABC News. “There was this crisis going on. How can we best contribute?”

PHOTO: Abby Schiff, a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, helped to create the school's COVID-19 curriculum and still keeps it updated on a regular basis. (ABC News)
PHOTO: Abby Schiff, a fourth-year medical student at Harvard Medical School, helped to create the school’s COVID-19 curriculum and still keeps it updated on a regular basis. (ABC News)

In less than a week, 70 of Schiff’s colleagues, including students and faculty, had put together a comprehensive, open-source COVID-19 curriculum.

“So we had about 80 pages of content — all referenced, all freely available — including things like thought questions, quiz questions… helpful information about how to put on masks and PPE, run ventilators,” she said. “And then also an explainer about basic epidemiological terms, about sort of the basics of virology and immunology and the clinical manifestations that were known at the time.”

Seven months later, the curriculum is still being updated with the latest science on a regular basis. Today, it includes modules on mental health, global health and communication, all meant to “dispel misinformation and myths,” said Schiff.

PHOTO: Fourth-year Harvard medical student Abby Schiff (second from top left) attends a video meeting with her fellow students to discuss updates to their school's open-source COVID-19 curriculum. (Courtesy Abby Schiff )
PHOTO: Fourth-year Harvard medical student Abby Schiff (second from top left) attends a video meeting with her fellow students to discuss updates to their school’s open-source COVID-19 curriculum. (Courtesy Abby Schiff )

As co-chair for outreach, she said her role is to reach out to students and groups that are using the curriculum to get an idea of their needs and how they can best be met, as well as recruiting students to contribute. The curriculum has already been implemented in 32 medical schools across the country as either an elective or mandatory course, and it has been translated into 27 languages and used in at least 110 countries, Schiff said.

“It’s had a really wide reach, including in areas where there are fewer resources available,” she said. “In the age of the internet, and especially when there’s something like this pandemic that’s affecting people in every single country and really just upending the structures of knowledge, it’s really important to keep information

The Challenge of Tracking COVID-Infected Students

Editor’s note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Center.



As students returned to the University of Missouri, the Columbia/Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services saw a COVID spike, with the peak reaching more than 200 new cases per day.

As the return of college students to campuses has fueled as many as 3,000 COVID-19 cases a day, keeping track of them is a logistical nightmare for local health departments and colleges.

Some students are putting down their home addresses instead of their college ones on their COVID testing forms — slowing the transfer of case data and hampering contact tracing across state and county lines.

The address issue has real consequences, as any delay in getting the case to the appropriate authorities allows the coronavirus to continue to spread unchecked. Making matters worse, college-age people already tend to be hard to trace because they are unlikely to answer a phone call from an unknown number.

“With that virus, you really need to be able to identify that case and their contacts in 72 hours,” said Indiana University’s assistant director for public health, Graham McKeen.

And if the students do go home once infected, where should their cases be counted? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted this issue in a recent study of an unnamed North Carolina university’s COVID outbreak, stating that the number of cases was likely an underestimate. “For example, some cases were reported to students’ home jurisdictions, some students did not identify themselves as students to the county health department, some students did not report to the student health clinic, and not all students were tested,” it said.

The White House Coronavirus Task Force even addressed the problem in weekly memos sent to the governors of Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Kentucky and New Jersey. “Do not reassign cases that test positive in university settings to hometown as this lessens ability to track and control local spread,” it recommended late last month in the memos, made public by the Center for Public Integrity.

While the full scope of the address confusion is unclear, the health departments of California, Indiana, Iowa and Virginia all acknowledged the challenges that arise when college cases cross state and county lines.

The maze of calls needed to track such cases also lays bare a larger problem: the lack of an interconnected COVID tracking system. Colleges have been setting up their own contact tracing centers to supplement overstretched local and state health departments.

“It is very patchwork, and people operate very differently, and it also doesn’t translate during a pandemic,” said McKeen, whose own university has had more than 2,900 cases across its Indiana campuses. “It made it very clear the public health system in this country is horribly underfunded and understaffed.”

Colleges’ transient populations have forever bedeviled public health when it comes to reportable infectious diseases, such as measles and bacterial meningitis, Association of Public Health Laboratories spokesperson Michelle Forman said in an email to

UC San Diego ends up with 5,000 fewer dorm students than projected, primarily because of coronavirus

UC San Diego has 9,655 students living in campus housing this fall, a figure that’s nearly 5,000 less than the campus has been projecting since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.



a group of people walking down the street: Students move their belongings into dormitories at UCSD on Saturday, Sept. 19. (Sandy Huffaker / San Diego Union-Tribune)


© (Sandy Huffaker / San Diego Union-Tribune)
Students move their belongings into dormitories at UCSD on Saturday, Sept. 19. (Sandy Huffaker / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The university also disclosed last week that it expects to lose about $200 million for 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The school had been saying the losses would range from $350 million to $450 million.

The huge cut in student housing represents a largely unpublicized effort to staunch the spread of the virus. Campus housing executives weren’t available for comment, said Leslie Sepuka, a spokeswoman.

UC San Diego began fall 2019 with 15,500 students living on campus, a figure that was expected to rise to 17,600 this year as new housing came online.

When the pandemic began to hit hard this spring, the university adjusted its estimates to 14,500 students who would be were living in campus housing in the fall.

UC San Diego told the Union-Tribune in mid-August that it was standing by that estimate. But the campus was actually moving to reduce the number of dorm students due to health safety guidance from the state, according to an email Sepuka sent last week to the U-T.

By early September, UC San Diego shifted, saying it would have about 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students in housing this fall. The number reflected further efforts to “de-densify” dorms in hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

The dorm population was 9,655 on Oct. 1, the university says.

UC San Diego also has said its COVID-19 financial losses could total as much as $450 million, with nearly half of the costs affecting the UC San Diego Health system.

, Sepuka said last week that the campus expects to have $140 million in unexpected costs in 2020 and 2021, and that the health system would take a $60-million hit in 2020. The total: $200 million.

“The earlier high-level estimates are no longer accurate because they were exactly that: estimates based on the best assumptions at the time,” Sepuka said in email Thursday.

UC San Diego Health originally expected to lose $200 million alone. The estimate fell to $100 million, then to $60 million after the university received some government support.

“We have very good financial people. But this was a difficult situation, which made it hard to make estimates,” said Dr. David Brenner, vice chancellor for health sciences. “This is the first time we’ve ever had an estimate that was this far off.”

The university has fared much better in forecasting COVID-19 infections. The school said in August that it expected 20 to 40 students in campus housing this fall would get infected the virus. So far, the number of positive tests has been in that range.

The university is trying to prevent an outbreak by regularly testing students for COVID-19, and examining

Miami-Dade students return to class for 1st time since March

MIAMI (AP) — More than 22,000 students are returning to classrooms in Miami-Dade County on Monday for the first time since schools shut down in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pre-K, kindergarten and first grade students are the first to return to the Miami-Dade Public School district under a staggered reopening plan. Another 40,000 students are expected to return to classrooms on Wednesday, with yet another group starting on Friday. Another group of students will continue distance learning from their homes. Miami-Dade is the nation’s fourth largest district, with 345,000 students.

The school board originally wanted to push the reopening back to mid-October but settled on Monday’s start date after Florida’s education secretary threatened to withhold state funding. Miami-Dade County’s daily positive test result rate on Sunday was over 5% during four of the previous seven days.

School officials prepared campuses for social distancing, installed air filters and arranged for school nurses and “medically trained staff” to be present at each school. Each student is expected to receive a thermometer when returning to school.

Many teachers and parents have expressed concern over the system’s readiness to return to brick-and-mortar schools, including student-teacher ratios, sanitation supplies and masks. District officials say they are well prepared for students to return.


In neighboring Broward County, which boasts the country’s sixth largest district, school officials are preparing for a staggered reopening beginning on Friday.

South Florida has been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus, but is complying with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order to put the entire state into Phase 3 of his coronavirus recovery plan, with only case-by-case exceptions to his call for all businesses and restaurants to reopen.

Florida on Sunday had more than 1,800 new reported coronavirus cases and more than 40 new related deaths. Florida now has had 716,459 total cases of the virus, and 14,845 related deaths.

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Wellington virtual Zumba class keeps students moving, hoping

Kristina Webb
 
| Palm Beach Post

WELLINGTON — Elyse Beras’ relationship with Zumba did not start out well.

The Wellington resident’s first try at the fitness class, which combines aerobics and Latin dance, fell flat. The instructor just wasn’t engaging.

Then Beras found Jamie Tizol. 

More: Annual Wellington Holiday Parade called off over coronavirus concerns

The effervescent Zumba instructor drew Beras into the high-energy workouts — something Tizol continues to do with new students, now in a virtual format using the Zoom video conferencing platform, prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“She makes every individual feel, ‘You can do it with me, and I’m going to show you how,’” Beras said.

Tizol has earned praise from her students at the Wellington Community Center, with people heaping acclaim on the 43-year-old instructor for her engaging personality and skill as an instructor.

More: Wellington honors service groups as ‘backbone’ of weekly food distribution

But something else about Tizol’s virtual classes is getting the attention of Wellington residents. 

When Tizol moved from her physical classroom at the community center to a virtual classroom using the Zoom video conferencing platform, it opened up an opportunity for her dedicated students, like Beras, to share the classes with friends and family around the country.

It’s helped them connect, stay in touch and see each other in a fun setting each week, Beras said.

“She could get a person that’s dying up to dance,” she said.

More: Chiari malformation: Wellington woman’s journey inspires her to advocacy

Tizol joined Wellington’s slate of community center instructors in 2016. She teaches four virtual classes: Zumba, Zumba Gold for people age 55 and older, Zumba Gold chair for people who may not be as mobile, and Zumba Toning, which incorporates a small amount of weight.

Moving from in-person classes to Zoom was “seamless” for Tizol, said Jenifer Brito, Wellington’s Community Services specialist, who organizes and directs senior programs. 

“We’re so lucky to have her,” Brito said. 

With 20 to 35 people per class, Tizol still finds a way to make each class personal for her students, Brito said. 

More: Coronavirus has made cancer treatment even lonelier. Here’s how you can help.

“She really loves what she does, and it really shines through,” she said.

Wellington has received a flood of calls from grateful students over the past few weeks, Brito said.

“She’s bringing family members together during this time,” she said. “That’s special.”

For Tizol, each class is a gift. 

“I look forward to it every day, to see their smiling faces,” she said.

More: Former Wellington resident pens ‘guidebook’ on breast cancer fight

Tizol began teaching Zumba about 15 years ago while living in Virginia. Growing up, she had a passion for dancing and music, and when a friend introduced her to the lively workouts, she fell in love. 

When she and her family moved from Virginia to Wellington six years ago, she had to start fresh with a new group of students. 

It was fate that she met Mary Ann

Way to Go! New Hyde Park students hold virtual blood drive

Two students from New Hyde Park Memorial High School have been combating the shortage of blood because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Aarti Devjani and Preesha Mody, both seniors, coordinated a seven-week virtual blood drive through the New York Blood Center in which individuals could schedule appointments to give blood through the center’s website. The drive allowed participants to stay safe and socially distance while helping their community, the students said.

As of late September, about 35 people had donated blood to the students’ drive, which ends Oct. 15. The duo has also raised more than $3,600 for the center through a GoFundMe page.

“This idea started in the middle of quarantine when we realized no one’s going anywhere,” Mody said. “Then my dad actually sent me this article about how there’s a shortage of blood, so we though ‘let’s do something about it.'”

The students then spread the word through social media — including Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat — and hung flyers in “every grocery store that would let us,” Mody said.

Devjani and Mody are members of their school’s National Junior Honor Society, Science Honor Society and Science Olympiad Club. Devjani has also volunteered at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, and Mody has volunteered at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut.

— MICHAEL R. EBERT

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West Orange-Cove schools to require virtual learning students with failing grades, too many absences to return to campus

The West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District amended its virtual learning policy, and the changes may force dozens of students to return to campus. 

West Orange-Cove CCISD changes virtual learning criteria

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It’s a move that isn’t sitting well with some parents as they weigh the dangers of face to face learning during a pandemic. 

The policy has sparked outrage among some students and parents of WOCCISD, and many feel like they’re having to choose between health and an education. 

Virtual learning has become a way of life during the pandemic. The prospect of it not being available concerns parent Ryan Melancon. 

“This decision doesn’t just affect money, it doesn’t just affect kids’ education, it affects the lives of parents and the grandparents these students will come and contact with,” Melancon said. 

RELATED: State health department takes down COVID-19 school tracker after reports of errors

He has two children in WOCCISD. The district recently announced that students who aren’t passing and who have more than 5 absences can no longer participate in virtual learning. 

A district spokesperson said a number of students simply aren’t showing up and aren’t completing coursework, which led to the change in policy. 

Rayne Keith, Melancon’s daughter, said her biggest concern is potentially bringing the virus home. 

“My dad could die and I just don’t want that to happen so I take it very seriously and there are a bunch of parents that their parents could die from COVID and the school just doesn’t seem to care,” Keith said. 

She feels that the school should handle things differently. 

“The school has made a situation that they could have managed a lot worse,” Keith said.

WOCCISD will allow a few exceptions. Some of those who are passing classes, have health conditions, or have been exposed to the virus will be exempt. Melancon said it’s not enough, and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his kids. 

“If I have to pull them from the district I will. They will not be going back. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when they will catch COVID at these schools,” Melancon said. 

Students who meet the criteria that the district has set are expected to return to campus on Monday, October 5. For anyone with concerns about the policy, you’re encouraged to contact the district. 

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