A 6-foot-5 Penn offensive lineman towered over the stacks of COVID-19 testing kit materials scattered around the assembly room of a distribution center.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the United States has found itself struggling to coordinate COVID-19 testing efforts across the country. For a while, getting tested for COVID-19 was an impossible task for the regular American.
Recognizing the clear struggle in organizing COVID-19 testing kits in the United States, Penn football’s Jack Purcell stepped up.
“My friend from high school had mentioned an opening at a [COVID-19] testing distribution facility,” Purcell said. “I went in to check it out, wound up enjoying it quite a bit, and ended up taking a gap semester fall of 2020 to continue working there.”
Purcell, a sophomore offensive lineman from Glen Mills, Pa., wanted to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic. Having helped out in two service opportunities in Jamaica as well as volunteering at soup kitchens in Philadelphia during high school, Purcell has always had his community’s best interest at heart.
Being sidelined from official sports activities with the cancellation of the football season gave him the opportunity to take action.
At a COVID-19 testing kit distribution site in King of Prussia, Pa., Purcell started with the basics like everyone else. First into the kits are the vials, then the swabs, the identification stickers, and the bags. There wasn’t much to it. Vials, swabs, stickers, bags, and repeat.
“It sounded like a really interesting opportunity,” Purcell said. “To get involved in the [COVID-19] supply chain and make an impact across the country.”
Originally, Purcell was just another big body to help load testing kits from the warehouse to distribution trucks. Not long into his time there, Purcell even brought on a handful of other Penn football players that consisted of fellow sophomores Jake Ligos, Mitzseen Joseph, Tysen Comizio, JC Dobis, and Ryan Mannelly. But as he spent more time there, his supervisors realized that Purcell could be useful on the logistics side as well.
Purcell's role greatly expanded from just loading packages to managing multiple different logistics. He kept tabs on where all the inventory was, identified how many kits each health center needed, organized where each package of kits was to be shipped, and coordinated with delivery drivers. During his time there, Purcell oversaw the distribution of over 8 million kits across the country.
He found that his years of football had prepared him well for this role.
“Just the discipline that comes from being a student-athlete having to stay on top of the entire course load as well as the practice schedule,” Purcell said. “You have to be time efficient and make sure you’re reaching daily and weekly goals.”
Although Purcell was well prepared for the position, he still had something to learn from his experiences there.
“In addition to getting a good feel of the logistics of the healthcare and commerce industries as a whole, the diversity of the people I worked with was a major takeaway,” Purcell said. “As we were transitioning away from a college-based student employment, people from all different types of backgrounds began coming in — it was really interesting to work with people from all these different backgrounds and I think that was pretty valuable.”
At 5:45 p.m. every day — which just about marked the close of each day’s operations — Purcell and his team of Penn football players had one last task before they could wrap up the day and head home. They had to manually load 120 large boxes — each filled with 500 testing kits — from the warehouse into the delivery trucks.
They may all be burly football players who’ve trained for years in their crafts, but lugging those enormous boxes by hand was no easy feat.
Purcell’s solution? A long twisting and turning line of seven Penn football players, forming a surprisingly effective relay. And while Purcell certainly had a number of other takeaways from his experience, the boisterous assembly line of his friends and teammates is what sticks out to him the most.
“It was like a team bonding activity — being in there and just grinding out the workday,” Purcell said.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.