EastBay Today

Posted June 11, 2020

From the Frontlines

Cal State East Bay alumni, students lead COVID-19 response in their communities, the region

Ruby Brin-Magpoc (’18, Nursing) heard her patient’s emergency alarm buzz and stepped into the small room to find the man on the bathroom floor, unable to make it back to bed. 

He looked up at her with pleading eyes and asked the one question she knew she couldn’t answer. 

“Am I dying?”

“I had to hide it, all I could say was ‘your vitals are OK, so far you’re still here, you still have hope,'” Brin-Magpoc, a nurse in San Joaquin General Hospital’s COVID-19 unit, said. 

“Given that the last pandemic was about 100 years ago, it made me more proud to help with this crisis.”

The 41-year-old alumna is just one of many Cal State East Bay students and alumni at the forefront of the region, state and country’s response to COVID-19. They are nurses, educators, researchers, federal bankers and more, all playing a role in fighting the biggest crisis the world has faced in decades. 

More Than a Job 

Matthew Rufin, 24, is a current Cal State East Bay nursing student and sergeant in the U.S. Army. Halfway through the spring semester, he was called back to service, one of the dozens of Pioneers who, along with their title of “student,” are also active duty, reserve or veteran military personnel. 

Days after receiving his notice, Rufin was in Philadelphia at the Liacouras Center, home to COVID-19 patients transported there to make room at local hospitals for intensive care patients. Two weeks later, he was again moved, this time to a medical-surgical floor as a primary nurse, where almost every patient was positive for the virus. 

Rufin said each day was a reminder of why he is choosing to pursue nursing. 

“Given that the last pandemic was about 100 years ago, it made me more proud to help with this crisis,” he said. “Seeing the extensive workload of nurses and the results of patients recovering from COVID-19 gave me more reason why I chose nursing as a profession.” 

“As a nurse, a big part of what I do is making sure the patient feels like they’re not alone.”

Brin-Magpoc’s sentiment was similar. The mother of three attended Cal State East Bay with the support of the Elsie Sanderson Nursing Scholarship and had known since she lost a baby to premature birth years before in Manila, Philippines, that she was meant to be a nurse.

“Some moms need to go shopping to help with life balance … I just go to school,” she said. “As a nurse, a big part of what I do is making sure the patient feels like they’re not alone. Especially right now, they’re away from their families, and it’s heartbreaking to see.” 

As a parent, Brin-Magpoc is also experiencing the isolating effects of COVID-19, albeit in a different way than her patients. Each day when she gets home from a 12-hour overnight shift, she makes sure to change clothes in a separate bathroom before going into the main house, and if she’s been with a patient who has tested positive, she’ll avoid her children and sleep in a different room than her husband. 

“Nurses and doctors are dying, and I have a lot of fear,” she said. “I kind of realized I have to find a way to cope with the situation, I believe I have a purpose, and this is more than a job for me.” 

Finding a Way to Stay Strong 

For Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District Superintendent, Kelly Bowers (M.S. ’02, Educational Leadership) a key part of addressing COVID-19 is making sure not only basic needs like food and shelter are met, but also that her students have access to the social emotional support they need.

Bowers said, while administrators initially focused its pandemic response on increased cleaning and encouraging hygiene, everything changed on March 16 when the district moved to distance learning. 

“You can’t separate physical health, mental health and academics.”

“That was a really hard decision, but it was the socially responsible thing to do,” she said. 

Pre-COVID-19, LVJUSD already had an emphasis on mental health. Bowers said the district has received national recognition and several federal grants. But that work is even more important in recent months.  

“You can’t separate physical health, mental health and academics,” she said. “If you’re struggling in one area, you’re struggling in another.” 

The school district set up an anonymous support line to connect not only students but also community members to critical resources and is facilitating direct connections for financial assistance to those who need access to care beyond what the district can provide. 

“We have students who have struggled with mental health prior to COVID-19, but we have some who have never struggled like this,” Bowers said. “They are missing out on a lot, but we’ve noticed more than anything they want to connect.” 

In addition to the helplines, district teachers and staff have done motorcade parades past students’ homes and even brought along Bowers’ husband, wearing a school mascot costume. 

“We went to neighborhoods, and we all felt connected, it wasn’t just students who came out, other people who had been housebound did too, to say ‘thank you,’ it was really nice.” 

For the 1,100 or so students in the graduating class, Bowers said communication and involving them in the decisions about everything from senior awards presentations to the modified graduation ceremony, has been key. 

“They know it’s not just them, that this is happening nationally and internationally, but it is still heartbreaking,” Bowers said. “We want them to be a part of creating something that will be different than what they expected, but special.” 

“This isn’t something that I can read in my nursing textbooks and prepare for.”

And Bowers isn’t the only one focused on staying mentally strong. Rufin said when he first found out he’d have to report to duty, he was scared, but tapped back into his training. 

“This isn’t something that I can read in my nursing textbooks and prepare for,” he said. “Fortunately, with the unit I was assigned to, we were provided with excellent training that prepared us for the task at hand. [And], I feel that all the professors at Cal State East Bay have better prepared me for this crisis.” 

A Small Part of Something Big 

For alumna Tracy Basinger, executive vice president of financial institution supervision and credit at the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, being on the frontlines of COVID-19 has meant focusing on helping businesses stay afloat. 

“The Fed has taken a number of actions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure financial markets continue to function properly,” she said. “Smoothly functioning markets are important because they provide fuel to the U.S. economy.” 

Basinger’s team is supporting many of the new programs the federal government has developed, including the Paycheck Protection Program Liquidity Facility and the Main Street Lending Facility, which are designed to help small and mid-sized businesses with federal lending. 

“For my team in bank supervision, we are working with financial institutions to help them responsibly provide assistance to struggling consumers and businesses in the wake of the economic shutdown,” she said. 

Meanwhile, for Bowers, California’s shelter-in-place orders have helped her connect and partner with other members of the Livermore community. Since 26 percent of students in the school district qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, it was essential, Bowers said, to make sure they and their families had enough food. 

“It fills my heart knowing that we are doing good and can be the bright spot in so many people’s lives.”

Staff set up four no-contact stations on school campuses throughout Livermore, which provide breakfast, lunch, and snacks, including two which provide supper. But what sprung from a simple food distribution has become a bustling all-inclusive support program for families in need. 

Community partners, including the local food bank, Fertile Groundworks, the Rotary Club of Livermore, the Taylor Foundation, See’s Candies, Girl Scouts troops, and others, have joined the distributions and handed out everything from cookies to thermometers, fresh produce, rotisserie chicken, and gift cards. 

“It became this one-stop place … and now families know where to come, it fills my heart knowing that we are doing good and can be the bright spot in so many people’s lives,” Bowers said.

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