Companies changing their businesses to combat COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered businesses across all sectors of the world as government officials have encouraged social distancing measures and ordered citizens to stay at home to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
But for many companies, COVID-19 has forced executives and business leaders to get creative—not only to keep their employees and workers in jobs but also to adapt to a rapidly changing environment and produce products that are most desperately needed. Grocery and retail stores including Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, and Dollar General have instituted special hours reserved for older shoppers who are most at risk of contracting a severe illness from COVID-19. Some of those stores have also limited their hours, put in place measures to remind customers to practice social distancing, and have even installed “sneeze-guard” glass at pharmacies and registers.
Other companies have completely changed their production lines because of the pandemic, including shifts to make high-in-demand respirator masks, ventilators, and personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses treating patients with coronavirus. Those supplies have been in critical shortage as the world has grappled with the quickly rising number of COVID-19 cases. The shortage in the United States has been partially due to the shifting production of PPE to overseas factories; something many American clothing companies have recognized, taking it upon themselves to start producing masks and hospital gowns instead of typical clothing items. For many manufacturers, that has meant sourcing surgical-grade textiles and getting FDA approval, though the agency has been expediting their certifications.
Stacker reviewed news reports and company releases to identify companies that have shifted their core businesses to help combat the coronavirus. These 25 companies represent just a handful of the global business leaders that have stepped up to help as the world deals with an unprecedented pandemic.
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After the SARS epidemic in 2002–2003, business conglomerate 3M made the decision to equip its respirator factories with “surge capacity” to respond to spikes in demand and was already producing excess surgical masks for firefighters combating wildfires in Australia when word got out that a new virus in China would likely lead to a rise in demand for protective gear and masks. In two months, 3M doubled its production of N95 masks to 100 million a month and is looking to invest in more equipment to be able to produce 2 billion masks in the span of a year.
The FDA gave emergency authorization to medical device manufacturer Abbott Laboratories to mass-produce and distribute a new molecular coronavirus test that can tell if a patient is infected in as little as five minutes. Starting April 1, Abbott plans to supply about 50,000 tests a day. The machine that is used to detect the virus is also small and portable, weighing less than seven pounds, and can be set up almost anywhere; although the company is prioritizing hospital emergency rooms and urgent care clinics.
French beverage company Pernod Ricard, the company that owns Absolut Vodka and Jameson Whiskey, received government approval in less than a day to use its distilleries to produce hand sanitizer, which is virtually absent from store shelves as buyers rushed to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Pernod Ricard is using ethanol it has in stock to produce hand sanitizer but has had to outsource other ingredients, like glycerin and hydrogen peroxide. Pernod Ricard won’t make any money from manufacturing hand sanitizer but has said it gives employees a morale boost.
Airbnb is offering free or subsidized housing to medical professionals and health-care workers who are on the frontlines of the coronavirus crisis and has a goal of housing 100,000 workers around the globe. Individual hosts can decide if they want to offer their listings to health-care workers, and medical experts vetted by Airbnb will approve accommodations for use based on sanitation standards. Airbnb has also expanded its extenuating circumstances policy, allowing guests and hosts to cancel or change bookings without paying a fee.
Although Italian industries have been hit hard by the country’s mass lockdown in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus, luxury fashion brand owner Giorgio Armani donated $2.2 million to hospitals in Milan, Rome, Bergamo, Piacenza, and Versilia, and to the Italian civil protection agency that is coordinating the country’s response. Armani Group was also one of the first businesses to announce it would close its Feb. 23 Milan Fashion Week show to the public and has temporarily closed all of its factories.
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Bauer, a U.S.-based company that manufactures hockey equipment, announced at the end of March that it would stop making helmet visors and start producing face shields for medical professionals to protect themselves. Bauer is currently set to produce 300,000 face shields, but has already received requests for more than 1 million. Because the company is unable to fulfill demand, it published manufacturing instructions, designs, and supplier information in the hopes that other companies will begin production.
At some of its factories, Brooks Brothers completely stopped manufacturing regular clothing items and pivoted to producing masks and gowns in light of the rapid spread of coronavirus. Brooks Brothers converted its New York, North Carolina, and Massachusetts factories, and aims to produce 150,000 masks per day at each. The company’s leadership was also in touch with federal and state officials as well as hospital systems to figure out how the company can further help.
Canada Goose in the last week of March started producing medical gear at two of its facilities in Canada and planned to be able to ship scrubs and patient gowns to Canadian hospitals free of charge. Fifty workers at each factory shifted to the project with the goal of manufacturing 10,000 units, although Canada Goose said it will expand production if needed. Canada Goose President and CEO Dani Reiss will not take a salary for three months, instead putting that money toward a support fund for employees affected by store closures.
ClassPass, an online fitness platform, was faced with a dilemma when the coronavirus forced local gyms and fitness studios to temporarily close. But it launched a new feature to allow its partners to offer live-streamed classes through the ClassPass app and website and allowed free access to its library of pre-recorded workout videos. Plus, all of the proceeds from those online classes are going straight to fitness instructors. The company also established a Partner Relief Fund where users can donate to their favorite gyms and studios through the app.
Recognizing the worldwide shortage of ventilators, the vacuum company Dyson designed and built a new one called “CoVent.” The U.K. government ordered 10,000 Dyson ventilators to support their National Health Service efforts to fight the virus. The company’s founder James Dyson also pledged to donate 5,000 units to the international effort.
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