Chemistry professor steps up to help coronavirus patients

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EL CAJON, Calif. — Sharing ventilators and rescuing stranded cruise ship passengers are just two of the ways staff members at Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College are helping in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were told the Grand Princess had 19 confirmed coronavirus cases in their crew and two cases in their passengers,” said Jeff Lehman, who teaches chemistry at Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College and moonlights as a volunteer with the government’s National Disaster Medical System.

Lehman said it was no surprise when he got the call in early March to help evacuate sickened people from a cruise ship docked off the coast of Northern California. “We needed to assist in screening those passengers, getting them off the ship and getting them into quarantine,” he said.

Lehman has been helping out during national disasters for 14 years. He was on the ground during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Harvey, but he says this situation was altogether different.

Across campus in another department, students studying respiratory therapy are now working remotely, their ventilators sitting unused. Those ventilators are now on loan to local hospitals. Six went to Kaiser, five went to Sharp and seven others went to California’s Office of Emergency Services.

As for Lehman, he says he has been reading about what was happening in China since December and knew the United States would not be spared. “I began following before Christmas, following the infection rate in China. I knew from the outside this would be big and only a matter of time before it came to the United States.”

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