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Maryland businesses branch out to stay busy, help others during coronavirus outbreak

When Michele Turner first put the Hatch Exhibits two-piece mask on her face, she knew it felt different. She also knew it would get the job done.

Turner, a thoracic oncology nurse practitioner at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore, was the tester and judge of Hatch Exhibits’ first protective head piece and shield unit, one of the many types of personal protective equipment in high demand across the country as health care professionals battle the new coronavirus.

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She was approached by her friend of 15 years, Chris McCormick, co-owner of Hatch Exhibits, a custom fabrication company located in Elkridge that specializes in trade show booths and exhibits. McCormick, 47, lost all his business when it became clear that shows and conventions across the country would be canceled for the foreseeable future.

Now McCormick joins business owners across the state who are trying to stay afloat in a spiraling economy, while doing what they can to help. He has transitioned his equipment from making trade show displays to making personal protective equipment.

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“It felt different because it was a mock-up. It was material he grabbed off the shelf. “It’s certainly better than garbage bags that some people in hospitals are having to wear,” Turner, 43, said of the shield.

“[McCormick] was meticulous in making sure it really protected the health care professional.”

With Turner’s feedback in hand, McCormick went back to work, understanding that time was of the essence, and started mass producing the head piece and shield units.

“At this point our saying is hope and purpose," McCormick said. “This, being here, is a lot better than sitting at home. We’re actually doing something that we hope helps.”

As long as his supply chain holds, McCormick and his employees can make 4,000 shields a day. He has 12 of his 23 employees currently working, and he’s staggering shifts to create a 24/7 production that can employ as many people as possible, as safely as possible. His wife and co-owner, Tracy McCormick, runs the logistics, ensuring the units get where they need to go.

“We’re working on getting additional equipment to triple the [4,000 a day] rate, but it depends on if the supply chain holds and [if] we can get additional materials,” Chris McCormick said.

He also used materials he had on hand to prototype medical gowns; the supplies have been ordered and soon he’ll have the eventual capacity to produce 500 gowns a day.

Since McCormick began brainstorming the idea earlier this month, he has shipped supplies everywhere from Arizona to Michigan to Washington, D.C., and in the state; on Friday, Howard County Detention Center picked up an order of 50 face shields.

Even with consistent inquiries about purchasing large shipments and 24/7 work, McCormick wants more feedback on the shields.

“If they say, ‘Hey, listen this needs to be a little thicker,’ I can make those changes on the fly,” he said. “We are constantly evolving what we are doing here to make the best product we can possibly make for people.”

McCormick isn’t the only local business owner expanding out of state to get business.

Party Plus Tents + Events, a Glen Burnie-based entertainment company, has switched from providing tents for weddings and parties to delivering tents to medical facilities including Howard County General Hospital.
Party Plus Tents + Events, a Glen Burnie-based entertainment company, has switched from providing tents for weddings and parties to delivering tents to medical facilities including Howard County General Hospital. (HANDOUT)

Lauri Dixon, vice president and general manager of Glen Burnie-based Party Plus Tents + Events, has been delivering tents to medical facilities in West Virginia to help provide safe facilities for coronavirus testing.

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Before the virus hit the area, Dixon, 56, said Party Plus Tents + Events didn’t do much work out of state. Instead of being used for weddings or bar mitzvahs, Dixon’s tents are now sitting in parking lots housing coronavirus testing sites and nursing stations.

“At this point we’re kind of willing to travel and help whoever we can,” Dixon said. “We’re doing this all at a significant discount. It’s a very surreal experience for everyone.”

In Maryland, Party Plus Tents + Events has set up tents at Howard County General Hospital and Johns Hopkins Hospital’s main campus in Baltimore, as well as at independent testing facilities across the state. The tents for nurses and doctors have climate control and hard doors and floors, creating contained spaces that are ideal given the circumstances of the virus.

Most of Dixon’s employees have been laid off for the time being. Since its work is seasonal, the business usually has 10 to 12 employees in the fall and winter, and 20 to 30 in the spring and summer. Right now, Dixon’s employees are all on standby, and she rotates who she calls in to give people as much opportunity as possible.

“We’ve lost a tremendous amount of business already,” Dixon said.

Dixon, like McCormick, wants to do as much as she can with what resources she has available. She has 450 rollaway beds that can be used as cots, and she’s had inquiries from correctional facilities about them. She has tents with HVAC and power capabilities, which might be needed come summertime.

Dixon is also exploring the idea of curbside tents for local restaurants trying to stay afloat while simultaneously keeping customers and employees safe.

“We’re a small business. We know it’s crippling,” Dixon said. “To even be able to offer some curbside assistance, it helps. It will allow [local restaurants] to have some type of cash flow.”

Sushi Q restaurant manager Jennifer Qiu is doing what she does best to help during the pandemic: making sure everyone gets fed.

On March 16, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that restaurants and bars would close statewide. Grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential services will remain open. While closing restaurants, Hogan’s order permits drive-thru, carryout and food delivery service.

Qiu and her husband, Kenny Qiu, have been delivering trays of sushi, fried rice and soups to area hospitals since March 24 from their locations in Elkridge, Jessup, Millersville and Westminster.

“Sushi Q [are] full-service, dine-in restaurants and dine-in volume has disappeared since [Gov. Larry Hogan] ordered closures,” Qiu said.

Jennifer Qiu plans to deliver meals to medical staff at local hospitals every two weeks until the pandemic is over.

So far, Sushi Q has made deliveries to Howard County General Hospital, Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis and Carroll Hospital in Westminster.

“I highly respect [that] each and every medical staff [are putting] their efforts and working hard to keep all of us safe in [this] pandemic,” she said. “We consider these donations as giving back the endless love and support that we received from all of our communities.”

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