Oklahoma businesses retool to provide ventilators, hand sanitizer – The Journal Record

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Addyson Awbrey carries a box full of hand sanitizer at Prairie Wolf Distillery in Guthrie. The micro-distillery recently switched production over to hand sanitizer in response to needs created by the coronavirus crisis. (AP photo/Sue Ogrocki)

In normal times, employees of Prairie Wolf Spirits in Guthrie work from day to day turning out bottles of the micro-distillery’s Prairie Dark coffee liqueur and other signature spirits that customers have been known to compare favorably to more expensive liquors produced by much larger competitors.

These are not normal times.

In response to the coronavirus crisis, a decision was made recently to switch Prairie Wolf’s production over to hand sanitizer. Sales Manager Jeffrey Cole said the government started sending out notices of urgent needs for sanitizer to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Rules were changed to make it fairly easy to make a switch, and Cole said it just seemed like the right thing to do considering what’s been happening in Oklahoma and around the world.

“So, our facility has been completely retooled,” he said.

During a recent press conference, Gov. Kevin Stitt made mention of Prairie Wolf as an example of an Oklahoma business responding in an innovative way to try to help steer the state through a tough time.

And the Guthrie company isn’t the only one.

Baker Hughes, an energy technology company, also has stepped up to help, Oklahoma Secretary of Health and Human Services Jerome Loughridge said.

Loughridge said he and Stitt were touring Integris Baptist Medical Center recently when talk turned to the rising need for ventilators critical to the care of COVID-19 patients and how to maximize their use.

“In times of peak usage, which is what we are trying to prepare for, a part that can be subject to failure is a valve inside the ventilator,” he said.

Loughridge said Baker Hughes, which has capacity to replicate such parts using 3D printing technology, was contacted and officials there agreed to help. Vice President of Growth Ventures Taylor Shinn said the company’s additive manufacturing labs have engaged with local hospitals, industrial consortiums and other partners to provide 3D printing support for ventilator parts as well as for medical protective gear such as face shields.

“This is an example of a company with a long history in Oklahoma absolutely coming through in an extremely innovative way,” Loughridge said.

Another company, Georgia-Pacific, which employs 800 people at a plant in Muskogee, has managed to ramp up production of toilet paper even as Oklahomans and other Americans worried about the coronavirus have sometimes gone overboard on stocking up. Spokesman Carrie Thompson said the company has gotten innovative in coordinating with shipping and logistics partners to deliver products directly to customers rather than to distribution hubs. That has contributed to a production increase of up to 90% and to an increase in distribution of up to 120% normal capacity.

Thompson said Georgia-Pacific has managed to break production records even as extra efforts have been made to ensure social distancing, disinfecting and other measures taken to keep employees healthy.

At Liberty Laundry, which has three locations in Tulsa and Broken Arrow, owner John Henderson said he wanted to remain open during the COVID-19 crisis for the sake of more than 20 employees and also for his customers. However, he also wanted to do everything possible to keep them safe. So, he adopted new rules following advice of health officials and posted them in places where they’d be sure to be seen. As an example, customers are no longer allowed to mill about while their clothes are washing.

“We’re following the governor’s instructions not to have more than 10 people in at a time, we’re social distancing and disinfecting frequently,” Henderson said.

At the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, which has temporary closed casino operations, employees who might normally be hostesses, poker dealers or work in other capacities have been asked instead to contribute to essential services provided to tribal members. Jason Salsman, press secretary for Principal Chief David Hill, said it has been an “all hands on deck” response to the crisis. With many people at home and elderly people especially discouraged from getting out, he said efforts are being made to deliver food and medications. Fleet vehicles normally assigned to departments that have been idled have been pulled for use in departments that have seen an increase in demands for service.

For funeral homes in Oklahoma, the realities of COVID-19 have called more for adaptation than for innovation.

Gordon Welch, executive director of the Oklahoma Funeral Directors Association, said funeral directors have been advised to follow guidelines of health officials in not planning for any large gatherings. Sadly, that has meant that family members of people who have died recently have had to plan for smaller funerals than they might prefer. Some have been asked to extend invitations only to those whom they especially want to attend.

“It’s really gone generally to immediate family members unless it’s a graveside (service),” Welch said, and for gatherings held outside, people are being asked to stay safe by maintaining social distancing.

Welch said many funeral homes now have capabilities to video-stream funerals, so that’s one way people not physically present might be able to take part. He added that most now also have virtual guest books that people might sign or use to leave messages of condolence. Physical guest books at funeral homes, which people in the past may have made it a point to sign, have been removed, as COVID-19 could potentially be spread by way of a shared pen.

Welch said an option that family members might have would be to bury or otherwise take care of a loved one now and delay their funeral or celebration of life gathering until some later date when the pandemic has passed.

“I can’t imagine how families feel having to make these decisions,” he said. “It is just very, very hard.”