COVID-19 Updates, Metro, News

First-year creates online platform to facilitate undergraduate community work during COVID-19 crisis

Maddie McCarthy ’23 launches Community For COVID, online network disseminates information about community resources, connects students with each other

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, April 30, 2020

While students are away from campus, Community for COVID works to connect undergraduate students across the country to compile and spread information on the coronavirus to their communities.

Fascinated and concerned by public health crises from a young age, Rhode Island resident and University student Maddie McCarthy ’23 has put her classroom knowledge and interest in medicine into action by creating Community For COVID, a website focused on involving undergraduates with community efforts during the coronavirus pandemic.

McCarthy, an aspiring doctor only in her first year of college, knew she wanted to help with community efforts to support those affected by the pandemic, but she didn’t know how.  “It is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night,” she said.

And then, one Friday night in early April less than a month after Brown had shuttered and transitioned online because of the pandemic McCarthy had an idea. 

She spent the following Saturday planning. A whiteboard that used to display her chemistry homework now featured her designs for a website. She bounced ideas off of friends over FaceTime.

By Sunday night, Community For COVID went live and over 100 undergraduate students from a dozen different schools had signed up. To date, 300 undergraduates have signed up to be a part of Community for COVID. McCarthy hopes to reach 1,000.

With her online platform, McCarthy seeks to connect undergraduate students across the country to compile and spread information on the coronavirus to their communities.

“Science is really important now,” McCarthy said, “Research is really important now.” But she knows that amid a constant barrage of news, it can sometimes be tricky to tell fact from fiction. That’s why one of the central aims of Community For COVID is to allow students to produce fact sheets for their local communities which can be printed and posted in high visibility areas, such as outside grocery stores and food pantries. 

The fact sheets will answer questions such as: What essential stores are open? What are available crisis hotlines during the pandemic? Where can masks and other personal protective equipment be found? These answers should be readily accessible to all members of the broader public, McCarthy said, not just those with stable internet access and the time to sift through all the breaking news headlines.

McCarthy hopes to partner with the COVID Literacy Project a website created to publish and translate information about coronavirus medical care in over 30 languages to improve accessibility. 

She is also creating a database where students can access and add their ideas for community tasks that can meet needs caused by COVID-19 outbreak.

Before launching Community For COVID, McCarthy was part of a team of researchers working under Dr. David Fajgenbaum, assistant professor of medicine in translational medicine & human genetics at the University of Pennsylvania. One of just four undergraduates among a team of over a dozen graduate students and doctors, McCarthy assisted efforts to complete a large literature review on off-label drugs being used to treat COVID-19 patients.

During her first semester at Brown, McCarthy started working as a clinical research assistant in the lab of Dr. Megan Ranney MPH’10, associate professor of emergency medicine and of health services, policy and practice. This experience, she said, deepened her understanding of the importance of community-informed healthcare work. 

And when Gov. Gina Raimondo urged everyone to find a “battle buddy” someone they can count on for support through these tumultuous times  — during one of her daily press briefings in early April, McCarthy listened. On the Community For COVID website, undergraduates involved in the project are paired up to offer each other emotional support. All that is required is to fill out a six question survey and then undergraduates will be connected. 

“As an undergrad it can be difficult,” McCarthy said, “but there is still this underlying desire to help right now.”

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  1. Forever Brown says:

    Why doesn’t this same first-year student create an online platform to facilitate undergraduate *academic*, in addition to community, work during COVID-19 crisis?

    If Brown curricula are so outstanding, and I know they are, Brown could use this to reach 150,000 students online instead of 1500 students on campus.

    What’s wrong with this idea? Doesn’t this make top 1% Brown assets more accessible, affordable, and useful for disadvantaged students in those same neighborhoods that need the community work? Why wouldn’t this empower every Brown student to fight unfair privilege?

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