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Tuesday, 19 May 2020 18:37

CA Businesses Shift Operations to Help Combat COVID-19

Written by Sonia Waraich, Times-Standard
Face shields sit on a work table at auto shop Quality Body Works in Eureka, CA. The auto shop, like other local businesses, has shifted operations to help meet demand for supplies needed to curb the spread of COVID-19. Face shields sit on a work table at auto shop Quality Body Works in Eureka, CA. The auto shop, like other local businesses, has shifted operations to help meet demand for supplies needed to curb the spread of COVID-19. Courtesy of Quality Body Works


Right before the statewide shelter-in-place went into effect on a Friday in mid-March, John Nicolini was wondering what he could do as an entrepreneur to help the community deal with the coronavirus rapidly spreading across the globe.

He said the idea of shifting some of his business operations came to him when he heard about Safeways around the country installing sneeze guards at their checkstands.


“We do plastic fabrication,” said Nicolini, president of CPR Aquatic Inc., in Samoa, CA, which usually manufactures aquariums. “I thought that’s right up our alley.”


Since then, CPR Aquatic has designed and installed plastic barriers for essential businesses like Wildberries Market and Redwood Capital Bank and businesses that are trying to reopen, such as retailer Belle Starr.


“The floodgates opened and we’re just outfitting it seems like everyone in Humboldt County,” Nicolini said. “And now we’re getting calls nationwide.”


As the coronavirus has spread across the world, new demand has burgeoned for products that were once unnecessary for living daily life but have since become essential, and local businesses have shifted operations to meet that demand.


“I’m just really proud of all the other local companies that shifted gears and started helping out with pandemic scare,” Nicolini said.


Alchemy Construction has also been helping businesses install plastic barriers.


Distilleries like Alchemy Distillery and Humboldt Distillery have diverted some of the alcohol for their spirits to go toward making hand sanitizer.


Auto body shop Quality Body Works and jewelry maker Holly Yashi have shifted their operations to make face shields for the local community.


Several of the businesses said they’re prioritizing first responders and the hospitals.


In addition to making sneeze guards, for instance, CPR Aquatic also made intubation boxes for St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka and Redwood Memorial Hospital in Fortuna, Nicolini said. Those boxes protect healthcare workers while they are intubating a patient, who might let out virus-laden aerosol in the process, he said.


Nicolini said he’s not taking advantage of the situation by price gouging because that would hurt local business, but producing the protective barriers has helped him rehire two employees since the shutdown began.

Others like Quality Body Works received Paycheck Protection Program funds to help keep staff employed as the autobody shop deals with a decrease in customer volumes, said Ross Creech, the shop’s general manager.


After receiving calls for spare N95 masks, of which the shop only had two remaining, Creech said he got the idea for making face shields from another shop owner in Oregon. Since then the shop has donated 30 to the Cal-Ore Life Flight ambulance service, a couple to homelessness advocate Betty Chinn, 100 to Mad River Community Hospital and 30 to Alder Bay Assisted Living Facility.


Businesses that are reopening, as well as individual essential workers, have been coming to the shop for the face shields, of which Creech said he has 140 on hand with supply to make 200 to 300 more.


“We’re producing them as quick as we can,” he said.


Abe Stevens, founder of Humboldt Distillery in Fortuna, said he’s received some inquiries from businesses that are reopening about buying hand sanitizer, which the distillery began producing in large quantities and donating to first responders.


“With our most recent batch, we have set a bit of sanitizer aside to sell to businesses in need,” Stevens said. “So far that has been a minor part of our sanitizer production.”


There were some regulations in place preventing distilleries and a handful of other types of manufacturers from being able to produce hand sanitizer, but once the agencies regulating these establishments loosened the rules, Stevens said a lot of distilleries began shifting some production to making sanitizer. But that may change soon.


“More recently, we have seen what hopefully seems to be a little more supply out there,” Stevens said. “That might mean soon we won’t need to keep making it.”


We thank the Times-Standard for reprint permission.

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