California State University  (CSU) Chancellor's Office

Combating COVID-19

From conducting research to providing resources and equipment, here’s how the CSU is doing its part to support its communities during the current pandemic.

Newswise — As the novel coronavirus swept across the globe, people throughout the California State University stepped forward to tackle the challenge. New medical devices were proposed, protective equipment was produced, facilities were made available and resources were rallied. Here are a few of the ways CSU faculty, staff and students offered their time, talents and knowledge to help California beat the pandemic.

See more examples of how the CSU is aiding the pandemic response, or use #CSUforCA to share more about the work we’re doing to help California rebound.

Medical Supplies

As the number of COVID-19 patients grew and put a strain on California's medical infrastructure, faculty and students sprang into action to design and produce some of the supplies health facilities needed.

A team from Humboldt State University's Department of Biological Sciences assembled 1,500 COVID-19 test kits at the request of the Humboldt County Public Health Laboratory. Created following clinically approved protocols, the kits were distributed to the Laboratory, HSU Student Health and the Karuk Tribe.

“Where we live in California, it’s such a remote place that it is challenging for our communities to have access to the resources required to protect and treat the public in an emergency medical situation,” says Amy Sprowles, Ph.D., HSU Biological Sciences chairperson. “Faculty and staff were eager to volunteer to help our healthcare professionals keep our community safe.”

Several campuses responded to a request from the Department of Defense (DoD) in March asking for ventilator designs for medical facilities facing a shortage of these machines.

San Diego State University Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Kevin Wood, Ph.D., mobilized graduate students Jack Lucas and Tyler Lestak to design a low-cost ventilator that can be easily assembled using readily available parts. The result was an emergency ventilation device that costs less than $400 to produce and plugs into a standard power outlet. Their first design featured a mechanical arm that pushed down on a CPR bag filled with compressed air, but their updated design​ relies on electrically controlled valves, has three different modes of ventilation and connects directly to an existing supply of compressed air, making it much more versatile.

“The benefit of our system is that we don't have to machine anything; they're all available parts,” says Dr. Wood, who also leads the Interface Design Lab​. “We can take these parts that we can buy from different companies and just assemble them together.”

He hopes the FDA will quickly approve their design so it can be distributed to healthcare facilities, but the team is also working with officials in Mexico to provide emergency ventilators for facilities there​.

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo students Cameron Wong and Ryan Lee, guided by Engineering Professor Eric Paton, also designed a ventilation system in response to the DoD request. The goal for the design was to create a ventilator using consumer products that could be operated by someone without a technical background, explains Wong.

“Because the coronavirus has already taken so many lives, is leaving people hospitalized and is affecting people around the globe, we definitely feel this project is something we need to work on quickly and with a sense of urgency,” Wong says.

While the DoD did not accept their design, they hope to get feedback on their work from other experts and help teams working on ventilators that are closer to production, Lee explains.

Protective Equipment

A significant challenge facing medical professionals during the pandemic has been the lack of personal protective equipment like face masks, gloves and goggles. In response, many CSU campuses have employed 3D printers to produce plastic face shields that meet hospital standards for medical staff.

California State University, Long Beach, for example, has several groups engaged in this work: The Innovation Spacethe Maker Society and Long Beach Rocketry (LBR). LBR teamed up with one of its mentors, aerospace engineer Eric Gever, who has gathered a number of groups, from college and high school students to hobbyists,​ to make and donate face shields for healthcare centers across the United States.

“There are medical staff on the front lines who need personal protective equipment, something we can supply in mass amounts,” says Corey Fraga, CSULB student and LBR business lead. “I wanted to motivate the team into working on something positive, even with so much to be sad about. We can’t let anything discourage us, and we need to continue to work toward things that are good for the world.”

Gever has also partnered with students and faculty at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and his concerted effort is producing around 2,000 shields each week.

“As we move through this pandemic, our first responders, such as nurses and doctors, and essential workers like bus drivers, police officers and firefighters, to name a few, are fighting this battle with limited resources,” says Alberto Smith, a Cal Poly Pomona senior studying manufacturing engineering who is working with Gever. “Projects like this show how we all can work together and do something to help those on the front lines.”

In addition to CSULB and Cal Poly Pomona, nine other Cal State campuses are producing 3D printed plastic face shields: California State University, BakersfieldCalifornia State University Channel IslandsCalifornia State University, ChicoCalifornia State University, Dominguez Hills; California State University, FresnoCalifornia State University, NorthridgeCalifornia State University, SacramentoCalifornia State University, San Bernardino and San José State University​​. 

Face shields aren't the only way the CSU family is helping out: Participants in a virtual knitting and crocheting class at California State University Maritime Academy have been sewing fabric face coverings for healthcare professionals, and many campuses have donated personal protective gear like face masks, gloves, goggles, lab coats and hand sanitizer to local hospitals and healthcare centers.


CSU researchers are lending their expertise to help healthcare professionals and government officials with the care and containment of COVID-19.

At California State University, Los Angeles, Assistant Professor of Computer Science Mohammad Pourhomayoun, Ph.D., and graduate student Mahdi Shakibi in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology used artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop a predictive model that determines the health and mortality risks of COVID-19 patients. Looking at symptoms, physiological information and demographic data, the model aims to help medical providers decide which patients need immediate care and which can stay home.

“We have to remember that the main players and the real heroes are our doctors, nurses and all healthcare workers risking their lives to save people on the front lines of the coronavirus fight,” Dr. Pourhomayoun, who is also the director of the AI and Data Science Research Lab, says in a Cal State LA article. “But I think everyone with any expertise can try to help. Every researcher in every field of research—whether it is medicine or biology or computer science or engineering or social science—can contribute to help address the COVID-19 crisis.”

Cal Poly Pomona experts Nina Abramzon, Ph.D., physics professor, and Wei-Jen Lin, Ph.D., biological sciences professor, are supplying their knowledge from a past study to help experts currently researching a way to kill the virus behind COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) on personal protective equipment so it can be reused.

“It's like with any scientific study, we are all providing small pieces to a big puzzle, and this is a small piece of a big puzzle,” Dr. Abramzon says.

Along with a larger team, the two professors tested the sterilization capabilities of atmospheric pressure plasma—a fourth state of matter created when energy is infused into a gas, breaking apart the molecules into chemically reactive atoms and molecules—on high-resistant biofilms and spores. This method could be particularly helpful for sterilizing SARS-CoV-2-​contaminated objects because the plasma exists at room temperature and can be used on plastics like medical face shields.

“I feel there is still some more work to do if they really want to apply [this sterilization technique] to medical devices,” Dr. Lin says. “But I think it's hopeful, and we're happy to help.”

Care Capacity

In an effort to expand the state's medical care capacity, several campuses were identified to serve as temporary overflow care facilities. California State University San Marcos offered to make more than 1,000 beds available to hospital medical personnel between two housing facilities, while the ASI Recreation Center at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo could house up to 931 beds and Sonoma State University's recreation center and dormitories could provide about 500 beds.

​But campuses are also dedicating space for other purposes.​ California State University, Fresno will house a temporary public health laboratory in its Jordan Agricultural Research Center to help the county expand its capacity to analyze COVID-19 tests. While the tests will still be administered elsewhere, the lab will be able to analyze 40 to 60 tests each day.

“We are pleased to be a partner with Fresno County in serving the needs of our city and region," Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro says in a press release. “While the County's Department of Public Health manages this Herculean task, we will do all we can to be helpful to them during this challenging time."

Additionally, California State University, East Bay is serving as a testing center for the city of Hayward, conducting free COVID-19 tests for anyone with symptoms or a fever over 100 degrees.


As a protective measure during COVID-19, many hospitals cancelled nursing students' clinical rotations. So, many of these students are choosing to instead volunteer in other ways, using their skills to serve their communities. ​

In this way​, Sonoma State nursing students have joined the California Health Corps, California State University, Fullerton students are volunteering as county dis​​aster relief workers​ at the OC Health Care Agency's Agency Operations Center and California State University, Stanislaus has partnered with local hospitals to allow nursing students to continue rotations in departments not treating COVID-19 patients.

“COVID-19 has shown me the risks that I must be prepared to accept when I become a registered nurse," CSUF student Courtney Van Buren says in a CSUF news article. “I would be lying if I said that this pandemic does not scare me, but I would not change my decision to become a nurse—nothing gives me the sense of fulfillment that I get when I am caring for patients."

Nursing students at CSU Channel Islands likewise are volunteering with the Ventura County Public Health call center to field questions about COVID-19.

“We are at this point in time where we are dealing with a pandemic," CSUCI nursing senior Lilian Kozma says in a campus news story. “It's something you don't learn in class, even with our public health rotation."

Similarly, California State University, Monterey Bay master of science physician assistant students are volunteering in hospitals across the country, while nursing students are serving in senior homes, public health students are engaged in COVID-19 contact tracing and social work students are providing services to people in the area who lack housing.

Campus experts have also used their expertise to develop online resources that keep their communities well-informed.

CSUN faculty created interactive maps tracking the COVID-19 virus on neighborhood, county and national levels to better understand the pandemic's effects. The goal of these maps is to provide more context around the number of cases in communities given their geography, demographics, population and other characteristics.

In a CSUN new release, Geography Professor Steven Graves ​explains, “We can learn from those places where the numbers appear to grow at a slower rate and share with those places that appear vulnerable."

At Cal State LA, a team from the College of Business and Economics created an interactive data visualization dashboard using Tableau software that tracks COVID-19 trends and deaths in the U.S. Decision-makers can search by state and region for forecasted and confirmed COVID-19-related cases and deaths to help guide resource allocation.

“I believe that help can be found on different scales and from different domains, and even a small opportunity to help during this outbreak means a lot to me," Dalya (Manatova) Dauletbak, a Cal State LA information security data analyst and Big Data AI Center member, says in a campus article. “Keeping people informed with the correct data is one of the keys to flattening the curve."

At San Francisco State University, biology professor Pleuni Pennings, Ph.D., and her colleagues put together two videos to explain the spread of COVID-19 and how social distancing helps slow its spread, while Fresno State is offering free online professional development courses to local first responders and essential workers.

And to address potential economic losses, the Small Business Development Centers at Cal State BakersfieldCal State FullertonHumboldt State​Cal State San Bernardino and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo ​are offering informational resources, consulting services and webinars to help local businesses.

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