Maryland's Deputy Secretary of State Luis Borunda (center) and Xu Gang (left), representative of Anhui-Maryland "sister-state" committee, witness the handover of medical supplies provided by East China's Anhui province on April 17.
On March 9, two dozen middle school students at Academy of International Studies at Rosemont gathered in the library of the school in Norfolk, Virginia, to video-chat with students across China.
Students from five Chinese cities, including Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in China; Shanghai; and Norfolk's sister city Ningbo's Beilun District shared stories of how their lives have been affected by the coronavirus, which forced millions of Chinese students to take classes online as Chinese authorities moved to contain the deadly infections.
Little did the American participants know that the situation in their country would escalate so rapidly.
A few days later, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Two weeks later, all schools in the state were closed for the rest of the academic year.
That was when officials in Ningbo sprang into action.
"They read news stories about how serious the situation has gotten in the US, so they reached out and asked whether we needed masks," said Harry Zhang, an associate professor at Old Dominion University and chairman of the Ningbo-Beilun committee of the Norfolk Sister City Association.
The offer was immediately accepted. Jennifer Priest, executive director of the Norfolk Sister City Association, said the city is receiving from Ningbo Beilun District People's Government a donation of 2,000 masks (500 N95 masks, and 1,500 medical surgical masks), 500 protective gowns and 500 goggle.
According to Priest, the Ningbo Beilun District People's Government is paying the shipping costs, as well as taking care of delivery logistics.
"We are so grateful to our counterpart in China," she said.
All gifts were delivered by April 13, Zhang said. Due to global logistical issues, the shipments have been separated into three units; however, the first batch of donations has arrived Monday, Zhang said.
Ningbo is just one example of many Chinese cities and provinces offering their assistance to their counterparts in the US during a tough time.
When the coronavirus outbreak assaulted China a few months ago, community members of cities in the US came together to donate medical supplies to their sister cities in China.
A few months later, when the US began experiencing exponential jumps in coronavirus cases, their friends in China are returning the favor by shipping masks and other protective gear.
"We have read stories of sister cities in China and the US helping each other during this time. My own city is an example," wrote Sister Cities International Chairman Ron Nirenberg in a statement.
According to Nirenberg, who is also the mayor of San Antonio, Texas, residents of the city stepped up by raising funds to purchase medical supplies for China's Wuxi.
Now Wuxi, which forged a sister-city relationship with San Antonio in 2012, has returned the favor by pledging a shipment of more than 30,000 masks.
"These acts of compassionate exchange have been important symbols reinforcing the reality of our common experience," Nirenberg said.
On April 17, Utah, which has enjoyed a "sister-state" relationship with Liaoning since 2006, received a batch of donations from the Chinese province that included 7,000 N95 masks, 70,000 disposable surgical masks, as well as 7,000 protective suits and 3,000 face masks for children.
Leaders from the Utah Legislature expressed their gratitude to officials from Liaoning through a virtual special ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the medical supplies.
Also presented during the Skype meeting were teachers and students from Cascade Elementary School, who were the recipients of parts of the 3,000 children's masks. The school's students in the Chinese-language immersion program shared stories of their correspondence with President Xi Jinping, which took place in the beginning of the year.
Meanwhile, a batch of masks from Anhui province, Maryland's sister-state since 1980, arrived in the state on April 17.
Maryland's Deputy Secretary of State Luis Borunda praised the long-term friendly relationship between Maryland and China, and extended sincere gratitude to the sister province Anhui.