The shroud of coronavirus covers everything these days, forcing businesses of all sizes to grapple with this strange new normal and the economic fallout.
Big corporations like GE and GM are retooling their offerings, large event venues are being turned into makeshift hospitals, and even sports apparel makers are shifting their workflow to create masks and needed protective equipment.
In the diabetes technology space, you’ll find Medtronic ramping up production of needed hospital ventilators, and inhaled insulin maker MannKind refocusing its R&D pipeline towards new investigational drugs that could treat respiratory viral infections like COVID-19.
Meanwhile, there’s an incredible grassroots effort happening worldwide, where individuals and small companies are using whatever skills and supplies they can to help those in need during these uncertain times.
This includes crafty PWDs (people with diabetes) sewing and knitting homemade face masks, and data-savvy #WeAreNotWaiting folks developing an app to better track transmissible diseases during a public health emergency.
Diabetes small businesses are repurposing their traditional talents and product lines, too. Here are three valiant efforts to know about:
This company was founded in 2009 by T1D peep Carolyn Jäger, diagnosed herself at age 13, and whose older sister had been diagnosed years before. After one of Jäger’s friends experienced diabetes complications, she wanted to help develop a carrying case for glucose monitoring supplies. Over the years, they grew to manufacturing more than 20,000 bags and accessories annually, and moved from their original location in Atlanta, Georgia, to New Hampshire and then to the Chesterfield, Virginia, area.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the company will not be creating any new case designs for the foreseeable future, but will instead focus on supplying its Dia-Wipes fingerstick swabs for those who’ve placed existing orders. A free pack of Dia-Wipes (25 count) will also be included in any Sugar Medical order placed by April 23, 2020.
“With the shortage of alcohol swabs, Dia-Wipes are a great alternative option for cleaning fingers before testing your blood sugar. What makes them so popular is they do not contain alcohol which dries out fingers quickly, and they are small, so they fit discreetly in your case or pocket,” Jäger tells DiabetesMine.
The wipes contain a simple solution of water and 0.9 percent sodium chloride — so there’s no alcohol, fragrance, or other disinfectant residue that could interfere with the accuracy of blood glucose testing.
PumpPeelz is a mom and pop diabetes business run by a couple in Pittsburgh, that normally makes “patches” for CGM sensors and insulin pumps, temporary tattoos, and screen protectors.
But now, they’re making intubation boxes and specialized face mask relief straps for medical professionals.
“We recognized pretty early on that we have equipment that is able to produce medical-grade products, so we’re offering our machines and resources to anyone who needs it,” co-founder Scott Imblum tells DiabetesMine.
Scott and Emily (Hixon) Imblum started the company in 2011, before they eventually married and now have a 3-year-old. Emily was diagnosed with T1D at age 21. She thought her medical devices looked too drab, so she and her future husband created PumpPeelz to offer the first stylish stickers for the Omnipod tubeless patch pump.
That eventually evolved into more than 2,500 designs for dozens of diabetes devices. They now offer decorative device skins and screen protectors, medical tape “patches” that help CGM sensors stay on longer, temporary diabetes alert tattoos, and most recently, customizable cases with tempered glass for the Omnipod and Tandem smartphone controllers.
But when the COVID-19 emergency hit, Imblum tells us that PumpPeelz went into pandemic-mode like so many worldwide. They’re still making and selling their diabetes device products globally, but they’ve scaled back the normal process. Everyone is working from home except one designated person who goes into the office at a time, with cleaning between shifts.
They initially reached out to some friends in the medical space to let them know about the company’s capabilities to help. While they seemed OK at the time on face masks, Imblum says they did need an intubation box for the local hospital ICU.
Fortunately, PumpPeelz was able to manufacture a clear intubation box, used for severely sick patients who are highly contagious within a hospital. The acrylic box covers the patient completely and has two arm holes built in, allowing the doctor to perform a procedure without needing to lift the box and be exposed.
Using a laser that would normally be used to make Dexcom patch skins, Imblum cut the pieces and then assembled the intubation box by hand. As of early April, Imblum says they’ve only made one but are now able to make more as needed. The first intubation box was sent to an ICU on April 3, and the feedback is hugely appreciative. The hospital president even praised them on Facebook.
Imblum says PumpPeelz has also made up to 200 “face mask relief straps” for medical professionals to have handy to take the pressure off someone’s ears by connecting the straps behind their head. After seeing people online using 3D printing for that task, they made a decision to design and manufacture their own version. They’ve donated all of these homemade supplies.
“We’re also looking at the fabric utilized for respirators and masks to see if we can use our contour cutting machines and even large format printer to mass-produce products for our local healthcare workers,” Imblum says.
Imblum and his partner Emily note that they’re eager to hear from the Diabetes Community and beyond, with any ideas that can help the local healthcare system — including sharing their vector design files and instructions for other organizations that might want to recreate these items on their own!
On the diabetes product side, Imblum says they’ve launched their spring collection early to try to offer some fun new designs in these stressful times.
“In this tough time, maybe just changing the look of a sensor, new patch, or even an iPhone skin might make things a little brighter,” he says. “Luckily we are such a small company that we can be completely isolated and still get our work done.”
As it became clear that face masks would be needed for the general public, after the CDC changed its guidance on this, dia-gear small business Tallygear got into the game.
This Massachusetts-based outfit has transitioned from just belt clips and carry cases for insulin pumps and CGMs to producing non-medical face masks in a huge variety of colors and designs. They’re reversible, can be washed for reuse, and are made with pleated cotton and paracord.
Company founder Donna Annese says they are relatively easy to make and everyone in the family is helping out, including her T1D daughter Tally, the company’s namesake, who is now sewing, packaging, and shipping the masks.
Annese created the business in November 2008, following the diagnosis of her then 7-year-old daughter Tally the year before. In the decade since, Tallygear has grown to offer hundreds of handmade creative products and designs, including the popular Tummietote, their original product from the early days. Tally is now age 21 and finishing her junior year of college, studying biology and chemistry with aspirations of working in a lab to help on both type 1 diabetes and cancer.
When pandemic-mode hit full swing, Annese tells us that Tallygear slowed to approximately 25 percent of normal business. “People are nervous about what’s happening, so they are watching their wallets,” she points out. “They are also home so they can keep track of their insulin pumps and Dexcoms without the fear they may lose them.”
Since starting face mask production, they’ve already made about 500 to 700 units in multiple colors and designs in just the first two weeks. The price per mask is $9.95.
“We see there is a need for these masks, and we’re selling them for half of the median price of most out there,” she says. “We have done a lot of local business with either my husband delivering to mailboxes or porches or people coming here to pick up on the back porch.”
We love how so many in our diabetes community are retooling their business ventures to help out in this time of need, making new products or donating their skillsets in ways that give back.
Every small effort makes a big difference and renews faith in the human spirit.