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PPE supplier has had to evolve along with the pandemic

The pandemic has created an ever-changing environment for everyone. That’s especially true for a business right in the middle of it all.

Waterloo-based PPE manufacturer The Canadian Shield grew from CEO Jeremy Hedges’ goal of providing face shields for frontline workers. As the company began producing them, it was quickly contacted by Ontario Health with requests for more.

Growing over time, they began selling other types of PPE and were only just allowed to start selling rapid antigen tests as of October. As the pandemic enters its third year, the Canadian Shield is continuing to help the region fight back by partnering with Danby Appliances to add air purifiers to their product line. 

“Your air just in general feels cleaner, which is nice. It’s not just that it filters out viruses like COVID but all types of other air pollutants that it takes care of. Danby is a really good company – they do a lot of community work. So far, we’ve had hundreds of orders flowing. It’s not the same as rapid tests, but compared to normal business it’s a lot.”

“Danby Appliances is pleased to be working with an innovative partner like the Canadian Shield to supply much-needed air purifiers to improve air quality in schools and workplaces. Be it pollution or viral concerns, we all benefit from access to the best indoor air quality possible,” said Danby CEO Jim Estill in a release.

With more Canadians spending their time indoors, air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are becoming more important as they are used to reduce the amount of COVID-19 particles in the air, along with other viruses.

“The scientific community has been familiar with the fact that this is an airborne virus, that COVID is airborne, for a long time, but I think it’s kind of only recently been recognized by some of the government organizations, and it seems awareness in the public is growing of that. That’s where you see things like N95 [masks] and a surge in respirators – those are higher quality masks that protect against an airborne virus like this. So HEPA air purifiers I think are enough, they’re a critical component in combating COVID in the workplace,” said Hedges. “We’re starting to see it ramp up. Just like we’re starting to see respirators and rapid tests, we’re seeing the same for air purifiers.”

Rapid tests have been the most popular item that they have sold during the pandemic, an item they started to sell in October.

“It kind of reminds me of March 2020, that’s the level of demand and scramble we’re seeing right now. Demand across the board for anything PPE-related is very, very high and we’re a retailer of rapid tests as well, so hundreds if not thousands of businesses are reaching out. Tens of thousands of people are visiting the website every day to put in pre-orders – it’s a big demand, it’s wild.”

Following the introduction of rapid antigen tests to their inventory, they had orders for 35,000 in the first month alone. In November, The Canadian Shield delivered 71,000 rapid tests through orders on their website. Last month, they saw a huge increase, with 825,000 tests delivered.

“We had 10,000 orders in a single day in December. A lot of the folks we were working with before, it was like big bulk orders, you had a handful of people you were delivering to. Now we’re delivering to tens of thousands of people at their home.”

Hedges notes the company hasn’t been immune from the global supply shortage of rapid antigen tests, adding he hopes they will be back in stock soon.

“The global supply for this stuff is quite strained, and the federal and provincial governments are putting in really large orders to manufacturers so the issue we run into is that they have first priority on inventory – it doesn’t matter when we put orders. When they have product it’s reallocated to government initiatives, there’s nothing we can do.”

The Canadian Shield began looking at carrying rapid antigen tests early last year, but it wasn’t until last fall that the company got government clearance. That timing came as the Omicron variant was gaining steam.

“We’ve always been a big supporter of it (test kits), but it’s only been recently we’ve been legally allowed to sell them based on the Canadian rules. I had wanted to do this as early as February of last year, but we were only able to start in October. Part of it is public awareness: once people really understood what these things meant and what they could do for people in a social setting and otherwise helping vulnerable families – once that awareness and widespread cries for rapid tests came – then that changed some of the rules,” said Hedges.

The Canadian Shield is hoping to take on new challenges in 2022, wanting to get their neighbours in the region back to some sense of normal, but as the start of the year has proven, that may require more innovation.

“Were going to roll with the punches – it’s kind of a difficult time to project.”

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