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The pandemic pivot: Edmonton businesses retool to join COVID-19 fight


Demand for many products might be down these days but several Edmonton companies are rushing to change their production lines — and bottom lines — to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

For 75 years, the Edmonton company Cowan Graphics Inc. has been printing advertising and marketing materials.

Now the firm is manufacturing thousands of face shields, sneeze guards and floor signs for hospitals and businesses on the front lines of the pandemic.

Vice-president Dustin MacMillan said the company has acted quickly to meet two goals.

“One is obviously keep our families out of the unemployment system, employed, and give them security of work,” he said. “And the second is to ensure we are educating our communities on physical distancing.”

Demand for face shields in particular has skyrocketed in North America, MacMillan said.

The company has raw materials to assemble 150,000 shields and is currently producing about 2,000 per day.

A plastic face shield manufactured at Cowan Graphics is modelled in a promotional video. (Submitted by Dustin MacMillan)
The company has already turned down requests for orders from the United States so it can satisfy Canadian demand.

With costs rising and other business decreasing, the company has still suffered financially due to COVID-19, MacMillan said, but the hope is to break even with the sale of the new products.

Making masks for hospitals
Gear Halo, in Sturgeon Industrial Park north of the city, typically makes deodorizing pods used for sprucing up sports equipment.

Now that team sports have all but evaporated, the company has pivoted to produce barrier masks for health-care workers.

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It took the company eight days to program its sewing machines, order elastic cord and produce the first masks, which can be worn alone or over a N95 mask as an additional barrier.

The first batch will be donated to the University of Alberta Hospital this week.

National sales manager Peter Konidas said the company is not looking to profit from selling the masks.

“There will be a portion that we will sell but priority will always be given to the hospitals in need,” he said.

Sewing scrub bags
After Edmonton hairdresser Jennifer Dinh stopped working, she sought other ways to fill her days.

She quickly took up sewing and started making scrub bags for health-care workers at the Misericordia Community Hospital.

Scrub bags can be used to carry and dump used clothing into a washing machine.

Hairdresser Jennifer Dinh has been sewing and donating scrub bags. (Jennifer Dinh)
Dinh heard about demand for the bags online and joined a Facebook group of people willing to donate fabric and organize deliveries.

Willow Creek Quilts, a company in the southern Alberta town of Claresholm, is now providing a free scrub-bag pattern for sewers on its website.

Sewing the bags, Dinh said, has been therapeutic for many people in the group, herself included.

“Being in isolation, we needed an outlet to show our appreciation, and this really helped us do that,” she said.