SMCC community continues stepping up during pandemic

Clockwise from top left: Nurses at Maine Medical Center’s Urgent Care Plus facility hold “stress sacks” made by SMCC student Tracy Taylor; Marine Science Professor Brian Tarbox stands by an ultra-cold freezer similar to the one loaned to the Maine CDC; “Keep Maine Healthy” ambassadors at Old Orchard Beach; a starfish-shaped ventilator manifold designed by SMCC Professor Dan Abbott; and boxes of personal protective equipment donated by SMCC’s Health Science programs.

The SMCC Science Department has loaned one of its laboratory freezers to the Maine Center for Disease Control for COVID-19 vaccines that need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures. It’s the latest example of faculty, staff, students and the College stepping up and helping where they can during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Maine CDC is utilizing freezers that will be used to store vaccines at temperatures as low as minus-80 degrees Celsius (minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit) before they are distributed for use at hospitals, nursing homes and other places where people are deemed at high risk of catching the coronavirus.

Science Professor Elizabeth Ehrenfeld came up with the idea of lending one of the Science Department’s two ultra-cold freezers to the Maine CDC after seeing Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, talk about the need for freezers when the vaccines arrive in Maine. He was speaking during a virtual meeting of the Bioscience Association of Maine.

Ehrenfeld, Science Professors Daniel Moore and Brian Tarbox, and Science Department Lab Manager Tom Long worked together to arrange for the freezer to be picked up on Nov. 20.

Ehrenfeld said she’s been inspired by other efforts from the SMCC community during the pandemic and felt the need to do something to help as Maine prepares for the arrival of the vaccines.

“The freezer is the Science Department’s contribution to having a direct impact on helping to solve the coronavirus pandemic in Maine,” she said.

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the SMCC community has contributed in many ways. Over the past nine months:

  • Students have worked on the front lines in hospitals and other medical facilities.
  • Health Science programs have donated boxes of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment to health care and public safety agencies.
  • Professor Dan Abbot has been involved with at least five COVID-related projects, including creating a device to allow multiple patients to be treated by one ventilator and designing a ballot box for people to deliver absentee-voting ballots before the Nov. 3 election so they wouldn’t have to vote in person during the pandemic.
  • For a class project, Health Sciences major Tracy Taylor created “stress sacks” filled with food and other items to uplife front-line medical workers and help alleviate the anxiety that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • SMCC’s Workforce Training Department trained SMCC students and others to serve as “Keep Maine Healthy” ambassadors, keeping the state’s visitors informed about Maine’s COVID-19 health protocols.

As for the freezer, Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long said ultra-cold freezers are important in ensuring that Maine has adequate capacity to store vaccine doses upon their arrival in Maine.

“The Maine CDC team working to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine rapidly and equitably upon its arrival in Maine thanks SMCC for the role in helping overcome a key hurdle,” he said.