COVIDsitters help frontline workers

American medical students are volunteering to help COVID-19 health care workers manage the home front.

While doctors, nurses and hospital staff work longer shifts, the people who help them care for their children and manage their everyday lives are less available because of social-distancing measures.

So Londyn Robinson and Brianna Engelson, medical students at the University of Minnesota Medical School, formed MN COVIDsitters with 11 other students. Their nonprofit organization offers child care, pet sitting, and errand services for health care professionals who are busy attending COVID-19 patients.

“Many of us want to support the people who have helped support us our whole lives,” Robinson said.

Woman holding infant (© COVIDsitters)
Londyn Robinson, an administrator of MN COVIDsitters, babysits Franceszka Kowalsky, daughter of University of Minnesota Medical School worker Kelly Grahek and Ben Kowalsky. (© COVIDsitters)

Using social media, the group advertised their free services to their community and word quickly spread.

“When our online form went live, there were over 125 requests for babysitting overnight,” Robinson said. “The need was immediately apparent. Until the end of March, we were all working 15 hours a day to match volunteers with families.”

As of April 30, the group had 386 volunteers, all of them graduate students in Minnesota. The volunteers have provided child care for 248 families and pet-sitting services for 38 animals, and run 154 errands in the Minneapolis region.

Other medical students around the country and abroad heard about the work of MN COVIDsitters. There are now 30 COVIDsitter sister programs in 21 states across the U.S., and more in Canada, the United Kingdom and Sudan.

Gunjan Desai came home to New York City from Ross University in Barbados, where she’s a third-year medical student. When she came across the MN COVIDsitters, she knew she needed to start a branch in her city.

“This pandemic is personal to me for many reasons,” she said. “My sister is a nurse, and hearing her stories from work about how her co-workers with children could not find nannies or caretakers inspired me to do something to help them.”

The NYC COVIDsitters team offers child care, pet sitting, errand running, and online tutoring services for frontline workers’ children.

“While we are not yet fully trained to provide clinical care, what we can do is give our health care heroes and essential workers the peace of mind that their homes and families are taken care of,” Desai said. “And, this is New York City — the land of resilience and strength. In times of need, we step up and rise together.”