COVID-19 Supply Hub: Connecting B.C. Businesses to the Frontline of a Pandemic

Rick Glumac, MLA Port Moody-Coquitlam

In mid-March, Jason Zanatta was facing a difficult choice. With orders in to his Coquitlam textile factory drying up as COVID-19 shut down demand, there didn’t seem to be a way to stay open and keep workers on the payroll through the tough times that were coming. However, with some ingenuity and dedication, and the support of his Coquitlam MLA Selina Robinson, Zanatta found a way to make it work. He turned his facility from its business of manufacturing pillows and dog beds into the first producer of medical-grade N95 masks in Canada. Zanatta’s factory has been filling orders for the Provincial Health Services Authority, the RCMP, and even international requests. His quick thinking and shift in production helped save his business and his employees’ jobs, and helped protect thousands of Canadians from COVID-19. When asked by the Vancouver Sun why he acted so quickly, Zanatta said simply because “It’s what I had to do to survive, and trying to be a decent human being and trying to help out in this crisis.” 

Stories like Zanatta’s are inspiring. As the world faces a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), businesses across B.C. have been stepping up in innovative ways to produce the supplies desperately needed for healthcare workers, keeping our frontline strong and people safe. Our provincial government took on the task of coordinating this effort. 

As COVID-19 arrived in BC, and businesses started re-tooling their operations to produce needed supplies, our government started looking for a way to make sure these materials could be efficiently directed towards fighting the pandemic. From every story we heard – from a printing company in Trail making face shields, to a distillery in Campbell River producing hand sanitizer—we knew there had to be a way to harness the energy and innovation that businesses had to offer and use that to strengthen the frontline services people count on—especially our health care system. That’s why we created the COVID-19 Supply Hub. 

The COVID-19 Supply Hub is a provincial program designed to connect local businesses with front-line health care workers to get them the supplies they need. The supply hub itself is a made-in-B.C. online platform, developed by local B.C. tech company Traction on Demand and is a result of a partnership between the province, the Digital Technology Supercluster, and the Business Council of British Columbia. The supply hub is a single point of entry that allows for the coordination and delivery of the thousands of donations and offers for medical and non-medical supplies to the frontline. As B.C.’s Parliamentary Secretary for Technology, I’ve been a strong supporter of tech and innovation in B.C., and I’ve been happy to see a B.C. tech solution play this important role in keeping people safe and helping keep our economy moving through COVID-19. 

It’s been extraordinary to witness people around B.C. come forward to contribute what they can, on both large and small scales. There are countless examples. The Harmac Pacific pulp mill in Nanaimo shifted production to produce a medical-grade pulp blend that’s being used to make medical masks, gowns, drapes, screens, and other hospital supplies. Burnaby-based D-Wave is providing free access to their quantum computing systems for researchers and developers working on responses to COVID-19. 

In my riding of Port Moody-Coquitlam, Stephane, the owner of startup game studio, developed a free app to make house chores more fun for kids, helping make staying home for weeks all together a little easier for families. There’s also the Port Moody-Coquitlam based HEAL, a company that has been providing plant-based meals to Share Food Bank, essential workers at Eagle Ridge Hospital, and Feed the Front Line, an organization serving health care workers in Metro Vancouver hospitals. Every contribution has counted towards our provincial effort to keep people safe.

It’s in times of adversity that we often see just how adaptable people and businesses can be. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that British Columbians band together in times of crisis. The COVID-19 Supply Hub has given us the tools we need, but we should also celebrate businesses who, seeing a chance to help the public good, stepped up and contributed what they had. There are so many businesses and individuals that have been making incredible contributions to this fight against a global pandemic. Thank you. If you have a product or idea that can help fight the virus, help us here.