For close to 6 months now the world as we know it has been turned on its ear by COVID-19. Terms like social distancing, ‘the new normal’ and double bubble have become part of our everyday lexicon.
Anywhere people congregated – schools, offices, places of worship, restaurants, grocery stores – immediately closed or took drastic steps to reduce the risk of exposed essential workers and to help flatten the curve. To say it’s been a tough year for many businesses would be a massive understatement. Following on the heels of the week-long January state of emergency, COVID-19 has knocked the wind out the sails for many businesses, especially in the retail and hospitality sector.
While many businesses scaled back or shut down for the foreseeable future, laying off or downsizing their staff as a result, some businesses have been able to make on-the-fly adjustments to their operations to fill an immediate need in the wake of this global pandemic.
From the visible – plexiglass barriers, social distancing stickers, and personal protective equipment (PPE) – to the invisible – COVID testing – in this Client Spotlight we look at those who’ve been able to adapt and overcome in the face of adversity.
Like many businesses, Avalon Laboratories felt the impact of COVID-19 immediately. With clients spanning every industry, they have become the largest commercial laboratory, and the first of its kind, in Newfoundland and Labrador, and is the province’s only nationally certified private lab.
In March, revenues had dropped quickly, a result of the downturn in oil & gas activity, COVID, and a COVID-related shutdown of the fishery.
“We went into survival mode immediately as no one knew how long the economy would be locked down,” said Paul Antle, CEO of Avalon Laboratories. Laying off staff and focussing on liquidity was an unfortunate reality until a shift in thinking exposed an opportunity.
“Our pivot to COVID testing was a challenge in some ways and easy in others. A challenge because diagnostic testing has never been undertaken by a private laboratory in Newfoundland & Labrador before, it requires different approvals, accreditations, technology, and new people, but easy in that we already have accreditation for testing in microbiology and toxicology and have the procedures and protocols and reporting in place for producing high-quality lab results,” says Antle.
“Since pivoting we have doubled our staffing levels, added new technology, new customers, and expanded our capability. The demand to test for COVID in the private sector will be with us for years to come, even with a vaccine. We currently have some customer contracts that extend for 1-year but see the need extending beyond that given the global uncertainty of the virus.”
From Garbage Bags to Medical Gowns
In May, Newfoundland & Labrador Health Minister Dr. John Haggie said the province’s healthcare system uses between 2500-3000 medical gowns a day. This was at a time when non-essential surgeries were postponed in order to keep intensive care unit beds available for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Now that surgeries are being rescheduled, demand will certainly rise.
To help fill the void caused by international demand and suppliers running out of stock, East Coast Converters, makers of the Billy Boot garbage bags adapted their machinery to produce Health Canada-approved medical gowns. The gowns, which were researched and tested with the help of Memorial University, can be produced at a rate of up to 30,000 a week, according to Chris Hutton, President of East Coast Converters.
“We handled the adaptation in-house by designing and fabricating a machine to attach to our existing equipment to produce the gowns. For us the evolution was a natural one,” says Hutton. “Given everything happening globally, there is a need to resupply PPE stockpiles for years to come.”
East Coast Converters supplies to DF Barnes who is contracted to manage the gown and shield manufacturing efforts, along with TaskForceNL, a volunteer effort led by Newfoundlanders and Labradorians looking to help the Government and Eastern Health secure and manufacture PPE during COVID-19.
A Surge in Demand
Between March and April, as businesses sought to protect front-line workers, demand surged in creating physical barriers that still allowed customers and workers to interact safely.
Seemingly overnight, plexiglass barriers were erected in gas stations, grocery checkout lines, and anywhere else that was deemed essential. A look at Google Trends shows a 400% increase in the search for plexiglass globally between March 15 and April 26.
In March, FASTSIGNS would normally be focused on filling orders – business cards, brochures, menus, and signs – for their clients, but COVID ground all that to a halt.
“In the 6 weeks that followed the immediate lockdown locally, business dried up for our traditional printing vertical but we stayed open the whole time, supplying the health care system with signage. As fast as we could design and print them were the ‘Keep 6 feet apart. Please respect social distancing’ signs. Everything else died off, at least for a while. The real estate market is strengthening again – agents are busy – and so are we with their signage.”, says Steve Drodge owner of FASTSIGNS in Mount Pearl.
Finding the Silver Linings
Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are nothing if not resilient. These are just a few examples of businesses overcoming adversity, finding silver linings, and adapting their business models to make the best of a bad situation. We applaud their efforts, their fearlessness, and their ingenuity.
If you have significant amounts of PPE in secure, un-opened original packaging that you can donate, TaskForceNL would like to hear from you. Click here to see how you can help.
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