Companies changing their businesses to combat COVID-19

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April 10, 2020
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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.

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Abbott Laboratories

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.

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Absolut Vodka

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.

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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.

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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.

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Brooks Brothers

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.

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Canada Goose

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.

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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.

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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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Eddie Bauer

Outdoor retailer Eddie Bauer altered its usual production to manufacture N95 face masks and surgical masks to donate to Washington state’s Department of Enterprise Services. Eddie Bauer offered to donate 5,000 masks in its first shipment and produce 15,000 more in early April. Personal protective equipment for medical professionals, including masks, have been in high demand, but hospitals and health-care facilities throughout the U.S. have been experiencing a shortage as the number of coronavirus patients increases.

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Although the coronavirus halted baseball season, Major League Baseball uniform manufacturer Fanatics has kept busy. The company is using fabric from professional baseball jerseys to manufacture protective masks and gowns for doctors and nurses. Although the masks Fanatics are manufacturing are not surgical grade, they can still protect medical workers from the respiratory droplets that can spread coronavirus. Fanatics has a goal of producing 1 million masks and gowns over the next couple of months, and will first distribute its supplies throughout Pennsylvania before expanding to New York and New Jersey.

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After President Donald Trump’s urging, Ford announced it would produce 50,000 life-saving ventilators over a 100-day period, and could step up its production to 30,000 units a month if needed. The auto company has partnered with GE Healthcare to work with a Florida-based manufacturer to create a simplified version of a ventilator that doesn’t require electricity and operates using air pressure. Ford will use its Rawsonville Components Plant in Michigan, where it can churn out 7,200 ventilators per week.

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The parent company of clothing brands Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and Athleta is working with California hospitals to press the company’s connections in the global supply chain to secure critical protective masks and gowns for health-care workers. California Gov. Gavin Newsom also said Gap is working on ways to use extra clothing production capacity to produce additional fabric gowns and masks.

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General Motors on March 19 began working with medical device company Ventec to determine how to increase its production of ventilators tenfold. However, the company has been the target of ire by the Trump administration, which has urged GM to produce more ventilators; the president invoked the Defense Production Act on March 27 to compel GM to manufacture additional machines. Over that weekend, G.M. cleared out its Kokomo plant and worked to set up an assembly line to manufacture the ventilators.

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Hanes has pivoted from producing cotton T-shirts and underwear to producing cotton face masks, using an FDA-approved design that can be used when N95 respirator masks are either not required or unavailable. Hanes expects to increase its production to make 1.5 million per week, and has shared its mask design and patterns with Fruit of the Loom, SanMar, Beverly Knits, and the National Council of Textile Organizations. Together, the group of companies plan to make 5–6 million masks weekly.

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L’Oreal USA is donating N95 respirator masks to hospitals in New Jersey and Arkansas and shifted gears in its production facilities to manufacture hand sanitizers. The company is also contributing $1 million worth of body care products to Feed the Children and $250,000 to Feeding America, and has promised that it will match individual employee donations to coronavirus-related efforts up to $25,000.

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The company that owns Louis Vuitton, LVMH, is using its perfume production lines to manufacture hand sanitizer and plans to distribute the product to French health authorities free of charge. Normally, the LVMH factories produce and package luxury perfume and makeup, including Christian Dior and Givenchy products.

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Medical device manufacturer Medtronic said it will double its output of mechanical ventilators and already increased its production of the lifesaving machines by 40% since the beginning of 2020. To accomplish its goal of ramped-up production, Medtronic is aiming to double its 250-person staff at its manufacturing site in Ireland and will shift to a 24/7 production cycle to deploy as many devices as possible.

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Prada in mid-March began the production of 80,000 hospital gowns and 110,000 masks for health-care professionals. Prada co-CEOs Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli and chairman Carlo Mazzi donated two resuscitation and complete intensive care units to every Milan hospital.

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SmileDirectClub, which sells customized teeth-straightening aligners, is using its 3D-printing capabilities to make respiratory face masks and medical-grade face shields for up to 7,500 health-care workers each day. The company is one of the largest 3D printing-based manufacturers in the U.S. and shifted some of the production at several of its factories to creating protective gear. St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center is set to receive the first shipment of 1,000 SmileDirectClub face masks.

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Elon Musk’s SpaceX is making hand sanitizer and face shields, and according to an internal company memo, donated 75 face shields and 100 protective suits to Cedar Sinai in California at the end of March. SpaceX held a blood drive with the American Red Cross in Hawthorne, California, and Musk has said SpaceX will manufacture ventilators if necessary.

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Musk announced that Tesla would ship FDA-approved ventilators to hospitals around the world. Tesla purchased the 1,255 ventilators from China but received some backlash because they were actually BPAP machines commonly used for people with sleep apnea. That variety is non-invasive, whereas the U.S. health system is in critical need of invasive ventilators.

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Tito's Vodka

Although Tito’s Vodka kicked off its response by warning users on Twitter not to use its products to make DIY hand sanitizer, the company has now pivoted to manufacturing its own. Tito’s announced at the end of March that distillery employees were gearing up to produce an initial batch of 24 tons that would adhere to standards set by the FDA. Tito’s plans to give away the hand sanitizer for free to those most in need.

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The parent company of Zara, Inditex, pledged to donate masks to patients and health-care officials in Spain and wants to transition to producing hospital gowns. Inditex is also allowing the Spanish government to use its factories and logistics teams to manufacture medical supplies. Meanwhile, sales across the company were down 24% last month as the company was forced to close many of its stores to fight the spread of COVID-19.

[Pictured: A cargo of 300,000 face masks donated by Inditex displays a sign that says "Although the oceans separate us, we are united by the same moon".]

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