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Howard County resident and former Terps basketball guard helps deliver smart devices to coronavirus patients

Clarksville resident and former University of Maryland basketball guard Varun Ram, third from right, delivers smart devices with team members Jillian Ross and Rohan Piple to Howard University Hospital in May as part of the Connect for COVID-19 project. Also pictured, from left, is Janice Murphy, Anita Jenkins, Rose Reed and Cynthia Livingston.
Clarksville resident and former University of Maryland basketball guard Varun Ram, third from right, delivers smart devices with team members Jillian Ross and Rohan Piple to Howard University Hospital in May as part of the Connect for COVID-19 project. Also pictured, from left, is Janice Murphy, Anita Jenkins, Rose Reed and Cynthia Livingston. (Photo courtesy of Varun Ram)

For many Americans, having access to a smart device may seem like a basic necessity. In some groups, they appear to be ubiquitous.

However, according to Varun Ram, that’s not actually the case, and the coronavirus pandemic has proven this.

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The Clarksville resident and former University of Maryland men’s basketball guard is working with Connect for COVID-19, a national organization that is providing smart devices to coronavirus patients who have been isolated from seeing their families.

“The goal of the project is to connect patients to their loved ones during this pandemic,” said Ram, 27. “What we’ve found, especially with the recent no-visitor policies, is that a lot of patients in hospitals are suffering in isolation.”

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River Hill High School alumnus Varun Ram is the Washington, D.C., regional health lead for Connect for COVID-19.
River Hill High School alumnus Varun Ram is the Washington, D.C., regional health lead for Connect for COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Varun Ram)

In the past three months, Connect for COVID-19, started by brothers Manraj Singh and Sunny Sandhu, has raised more than $45,000 and donated more than 1,000 devices to 200-plus health care facilities. The project started in the Northeast with hotspots in New York and New Jersey but has also spread to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Miami, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

Ram is the regional health lead for Washington, while Johns Hopkins medical student Hulai Jalloh is the regional health lead for the Baltimore area.

Jalloh, 24, said the project has been a good way for her, as a medical student, to help.

“It’s an interesting time to be as a medical student,” she said. “We’re close enough to know what’s happening on the front lines and how devastating it is and how really it’s a tragedy that patients are dying without getting to see their family members. But also we’re not quite there in our training, so we’re out of the way. Connect for COVID-19 has offered a really good way for medical students to get involved and in a really unique way.”

Ram, who graduated from River Hill High School in 2010, started at Trinity College in Connecticut before spending three years as a walk-on guard on the Terps men’s basketball team. Ram’s largest contribution to the Terps in his time there was a key defensive stop in the team’s second-round win over Valparaiso in the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

Ram graduated from Maryland with degrees in physiology and neurobiology and now works as a consultant at Deloitte, a global professional services network. Singh is one of his coworkers at Deloitte, which is how Ram was introduced to the project.

Johns Hopkins medical student Hulai Jalloh is the Baltimore regional health lead for Connect for COVID-19.
Johns Hopkins medical student Hulai Jalloh is the Baltimore regional health lead for Connect for COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Hulai Jalloh)

So far, Ram’s team has delivered about 30 tablets and phones to patients at Howard University Hospital and Total Family Care Coalition, both in Washington. At Howard, which was the group’s first delivery in May, Ram said each device is expected to support about 10 to 20 patients a day.

“We thought Howard University Hospital would be a good place to start,” Ram said. “There is a need there, and there is an urgent need in the [D.C., Maryland and Virginia area].”

Jalloh’s team, meanwhile, delivered one drop-off of 10 devices to the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital in May.

“There were a lot of people at that facility who had no way to communicate with families,” she said. “It was a huge need there.”

Jalloh, who grew up in Washington and graduated from Princeton, said she was compelled to get involved because the no-visitor policies impact marginalized groups like lower-income families and senior citizens.

“Those populations have been hit the hardest with patient isolation,” she said. “There’s research out there of patient isolation that there are worse patient outcomes when they’re disconnected from people. It’s not only a humanitarian thing; it’s also a health thing. I think this is something everybody should care about right now.”

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To help the project, Ram and Jalloh said people can either donate their old smart devices or donate money to the Connect for COVID-19 GoFundMe page.

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