Fighting Corona with Community: Professor Garner mobilizes a Burning Man army to provide equipment to doctors

March 24, 2020
Professor Garner at the bench


When Harvard University shut its doors to stem the coronavirus pandemic, Harvard professor Ethan Garner got to work.

At home in quarantine, Garner kept reading stories of doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who simply did not have enough medical equipment to keep themselves safe. They needed masks, they needed goggles, and they needed gloves. How could he help?

Garner, who usually solves problems with biology, this time solved the problem with Burning Man. Every year, thousands of people gather in the Nevada desert for a week of music, art, creativity, and community. And every year, the sands of the Black Rock Desert demand that attendees arrive with masks, and goggles, and gloves.

The Professor of Molecular Biology’s mind went in two directions. First, he pitched the idea of donating equipment to “Burners Without Borders,” the nonprofit arm of Burning Man. Next, he tracked down doctors in need, using the hashtag #GetMePPE to locate them. was born, and from that point on the team spent over 12 hours a day matching Burning Man supply to clinical demand.

“This is a nation-wide grassroots effort,” says Garner. “We merged 17 groups who were already working on this problem into a team that’s now over 300 strong, sharing data and resources through Led by doctors at Children’s Hospital, we are doing what we can to help.”

The organization ( has now received sizeable support from the scientific publisher, Wiley, who have also contributed their staff to this effort.

“The inspiration came from our Dean of Science, Chris Stubbs,” says Garner, a professor in Harvard’s Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology. “He mobilized the Harvard community to donate their personal protective equipment to area hospitals. This was just a way of expanding the effort. The response has been overwhelming.”

“Ethan is as passionate about art and community as he is about biology,” says B.N. Queenan, the Executive Director of Research at Harvard’s NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology. “It’s an inspiration to all of us that he can have such an amazing research program while also prioritizing the artistic community, not only here in Somerville and Cambridge, but also on the national scale.”

“Now, he’s been able to fuse his passions to fight a global pandemic,” says Queenan. “I hope students remember this story when they feel that they have to choose between science and art, between service and scholarship. If you love it, do it. And then use it to save the world.”

Get involved with #GetUsPPE here:

Read more about Professor Garner’s venture here in the Washington Post.