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As precautions and actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout South Dakota, including closure of day care centers and schools, the state’s health professionals continued to work and provide health services, sometimes under challenging, demanding conditions. This left many of the state’s health care workers in a bind: Their children needed caretaking and schooling. Errands needed to be run. Pets needed to be exercised and fed.

To the rescue came South Dakota COVID Sitters & Services, a service founded by Mona El-Gayar, a medical student at the USD Sanford School of Medicine, and staffed by volunteers who are her classmates at the school of medicine.

“This program started because I was inspired by our medical student colleagues in Minnesota, who started a babysitting network when they were pulled from rotations,” explained El-Gayar, Class of 2021. “As soon as we were pulled from our rotations, I knew I wanted to do something similar. We expanded our program to include help with household chores, pets and errands. Our program also spans different areas of South Dakota, so we can serve as many of our communities as we can.”

El-Gayar employed her web-building skills to establish a website listing medical students available to perform various tasks for health care providers, and providing a system for health workers to contact the program to request assistance. The website also began dispensing important information for medical students, serving as a secondary source for important messages circulated by the medical school to its students.

“The pandemic inspired a lot of community building in ways that we would not have foreseen,” student Claire Porter told a Sioux Falls television station. Porter became the program’s student events coordinator, creating and executing ideas for virtual events for students.

Avery Olson, a medical student based at the medical school’s Rapid City campus, began directing the program’s student services in western South Dakota, and El-Gayar handled those responsibilities for eastern South Dakota.

In addition to students at Sanford School of Medicine, several alumni from Alpha Xi Delta, a women’s service fraternity at South Dakota State University, joined the cause.

Learn more at www.sdcovidsitters.com.

Mona El-Gayar's website for SD COVID Sitters & Services.