Red Cross volunteer David Summerby-Murray: unexpectedly applying his infectious diseases background at home

David Summerby-Murray’s professional background in mapping infectious diseases has taken him to such places as Gambia, with the Medical Research Council of the United Kingdom, and Mozambique, with the Aga Khan Foundation.

David holding his dog Sprocket outside a houseHe grew up in New Brunswick and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Biochemistry. He later attended grad school in New Zealand before moving to Halifax, where, in 2019, he joined the Canadian Red Cross as a local emergency response volunteer.

“I knew of the work the Red Cross did overseas and thought it would be a great idea to see if I could be part of that in my local community,” he explains.

While he never expected a need to apply his expertise regarding infectious diseases in a place like Nova Scotia, that quickly changed with the COVID-19 pandemic.

David assisted at a COVID-19 mass testing site in Halifax and deployed as an epidemic prevention and control (EPC) advisor for a long-term care home in New Brunswick that was hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak and had requested Red Cross support.

He also became a site manager, providing comfort and care services to a returning travellers who are isolating in compliance with Public Health Agency of Canada requirements.

Reflecting on his work as a local disaster volunteer, David recalls the first time he helped tenants who needed emergency lodging, food and clothing purchases and other support when evacuated from a burning apartment building just before Christmas.

“The shock and disbelief on people’s faces, it’s heartbreaking, and made so much worse just before the holidays.”

However, he was also struck by the many acts of kindness following the fire, like the local cafe owner who donated doughnuts and coffee or the onlooker who opened a tab at a nearby restaurant so everyone could have a hot meal.

“What’s even more memorable is that every person we assisted through their tragedy has taken the time to say thank you. I think having a calm and friendly face does wonders for reassuring people that they’re not alone and that we’re going to help them get through this difficult time.”

When asked why he volunteers with the Red Cross, David says it’s the people behind the vests.  

“Red Cross volunteers are people from all walks of life, with vast life experiences and skills. We’re passionate about helping others. We get to see the real and positive impact of emergency assistance in our community.”

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