An elderly person living alone who needs groceries. A person with a weakened immune system who needs medication. A caretaker living with a parent who has run out of supplies.

Connecting people who need non-medical assistance during the coronavirus pandemic with volunteers who can lend them a hand is the mission of Covid Assist, co-created by Brian Jaffe ’06. The organization matches neighbors who can’t leave their homes with volunteers who can run errands for them to keep everyone safe and healthy.

Covid Assist is building community and hope, according to Jaffe: “People feel isolated, and times are tough. But the people who are helped and the people who help both feel they are getting a lot out of this.”

Jaffe repurposed software from his Redwood City, California, civic-engagement start-up, VOCA, to launch this effort. In a conversation with a colleague in March, he realized that the pandemic would quickly become all-consuming. They looked at the tools they had already built, re-tooled the underlying technology, and created Covid Assist in three days.

Launched on March 18, Covid Assist now has nearly 1,000 volunteers in 34 states. Jaffe and colleagues plugged in to every network they had and used social media to get the word out. “We have more volunteers than we have people who need help,” Jaffe said, “so we hope more people will let us know [if they need help]. You don’t have to feel bad about asking for help.”

People from anywhere in the United States can sign up for the service at and select whether they need help or are willing to help others. After signing up, the person in need of assistance is paired within hours with a volunteer in their neighborhood, or as close as possible, via text message so the partners can work out a schedule for completing the errand. Afterwards, the volunteer texts again and drops off whatever was purchased at the person-in-need’s home. The volunteer is reimbursed for any purchases via PayPal or Venmo to discourage person-to-person contact from occurring.

The match between the volunteer and the person seeking help is facilitated not only via algorithm but also with the help of a representative from the Covid Assist core team. Jaffe has a dozen members serving as his core team, most of whom he “met” online; they include an event planner and public relations consultant whose jobs halted when the pandemic hit.

“The real beauty of this has been the building of community,” Jaffe said of Covid Assist. “If we can take the good lessons from the experience of this pandemic and build more community, it will be a silver lining.”

Covid Assist is on Twitter at @CovidAssist and Facebook at To get help or to volunteer to give help, contact Covid Assist.

Particle physicists design simplified ventilator for COVID-19 patients

Apr 09, 2020 Health Care , News , Research , Technology

An international team of particle physicists led by Princeton’s Cristian Galbiati paused their search for dark matter to focus on the growing demand for ventilators, needed for patients with serious cases of COVID-19. While it may sound odd for a dark matter researcher to have taken up medical manufacturing, it makes more sense when put another way: an expert in constructing sensitive instruments for compressed argon decided to experiment with compressed oxygen and nitrogen. The first 1,000 units will be constructed within the week.

University staff work 24/7 to support on-campus community during coronavirus pandemic

Apr 09, 2020 Community , Education , Featured

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Princeton campus might look like a ghost town in the bloom of springtime. But in fact, hundreds of essential staff members are practicing social distancing while working around the clock to support the on-campus community, and hundreds of other staff members are working from home to provide support.


Love in the time of COVID-19: negligence in the Nicaraguan response

Apr 09, 2020 Featured , Health Care , Policy

Ben Gallo ’17, a medical student at Brown University, and Briana Christophers ’17, currently at Weill Cornell Medicine, have co-authored an article in “The Lancet Global Health” outlining the Nicaraguan government’s erratic response to COVID-19. Directly contradicting mitigation strategies recommended by the World Health Organization, President Daniel Ortega has refused to encourage any physical distancing measures. Vice President Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife, has even called for street marches instead.

Gallo, Christophers, and their co-authors state that the country’s lack of testing and low numbers of ventilators can cause the already fragile public health infrastructure to collapse under the pressure of widespread infection. In addition, they contrast the Nicaraguan response with those of other governments in the region, all of which taken stronger measures against the virus. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, but even those with greater resources and more pro-active responses are struggling to contain the virus. The consequences of Nicaragua’s refusal to act could also undermine its’ neighbors’ efforts, putting the whole region at risk.

Read the full article at the Lancet.