By Faith Miller

The latest unemployment figures stand as a stark reminder of how much we’re all hurting.

On April 2, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment announced that 61,583 initial unemployment claims were filed the week ending March 28.

For perspective: That’s eight times the number of claims filed the week ending Jan. 9, 2010, the peak period for unemployment filings during the Great Recession. Across the country, about 10 million Americans lost their jobs during the third and fourth weeks of March and applied for unemployment benefits, according to the latest figures from the U.S. Labor Department.

To survive through a time when leaving the house on all but essential errands is banned, the businesses driving our local economy must learn to navigate uncharted waters.

Those still open have found ways to stay afloat — some by holding steady, and others by steering into unfamiliar territory. Here are just a few examples.

COLLABORATING ON CHILD CARE

MyVillage, a network of home-based child care providers in Colorado and Montana, has tried to make sure its affiliates keep getting paid as some parents take their kids out of care, says co-founder and CEO Erica Mackey. The company raised emergency grant funding to help cover provider income lost due to coronavirus-related concerns.

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MyVillage is also part of the Colorado Emergency Child Care Collaborative, a public-private partnership providing free child care for qualifying essential workers during the pandemic.

Through the collaborative — a partnership between the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and Gary Community Investments, supported by Centura Health and the Buell Foundation — qualifying parents can get their child care tuition paid through May 17.

Alyssa Schewibish, a new provider with MyVillage in Colorado Springs who lost customers in March, said she has two families starting care with her thanks to that initiative, which launched March 30. She’ll be caring for children of a police officer and of a veterinarian.

Schewibish, who has her own 6-month-old, says she’s taking precautions against COVID-19 in her home-based business.

“I sanitize everything that they play with throughout the day,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Garden Ranch YMCA in Colorado Springs announced it’s providing child care for children ages 5 through 12 between 6:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays. Medical providers, emergency workers and essential personnel automatically qualify for 50 percent off tuition through April 30.

HOME HEALTH STILL HIRING

While some larger training programs for certified nurse assistants, or CNAs, may not be able to hold classes in person, local nonprofit The Independence Center wants prospective students to know it’s still holding training sessions.

“Our limit has always been 10 students, and so … we’ve rearranged the classroom and so forth, and we can still accept up to nine people and still have that social distancing aspect,” said Indy Frazee, home health administrator for the Center, which serves people with disabilities.

The next four-week CNA training class begins May 4, Frazee said.

Heart to Heart CNA Academy has been able to keep offering classes, too, according to owner and instructor Priscilla Williams. The company — which typically trains no more than 10 people at once — is further limiting class sizes until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, Williams said.

The Independence Center is also hiring CNAs, personal care attendants and personal care workers/homemakers for its own home health agency.

For people who may have recently lost an income source, caregiving may be a good option, Frazee said. Attendants and care workers don’t need a state-issued certification.

Pandemic or no, these kinds of workers are always in high demand, Frazee explained, as the work “can be taxing” and turnover rates are high.

Interim HealthCare is another local health care company with open positions for personal care workers, CNAs, registered nurses and more. Right at Home is also looking for CNAs and homemakers to help seniors and adults who have disabilities. (See box for more opportunities for job seekers.)

FROM HEMP TO HAND SANITIZER

Hemp Depot — a Denver-based company that bottles CBD products at a facility in Colorado Springs — has switched over 20 percent of its manufacturing capacity to making hand sanitizer, said Andy Rodosevich, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

“Step one was, ‘Hey, there’s this crisis — how can we help?’ and step two was, ‘How can we ensure that we’re not one of the companies that are closing their doors and laying off our employees?’”

The sanitizer, marketed under the Tru Organics brand and sold in 2-ounce spray bottles, can be purchased from CBD retailers or directly from Hemp Depot’s website. 

The company also secured a contract to make hand sanitizer for Denver’s Regional Transportation District.

The CBD company — which usually doesn’t bottle flammable products — had to purchase some new equipment, but was able to work with its existing suppliers to make that happen fairly quickly, Rodosevich said: “We were able to go from concept to shipping products within seven days.”

Hemp Depot’s not the only company switching production capacity to making hand sanitizer. Liquor manufacturers including Lee Spirits and Axe and the Oak Distillery can use byproducts from the spirit-making process as an ingredient in sanitizer formulas.

3D PRINTING PPE

On March 15, the Pikes Peak Library District announced it would close its facilities to the public until further notice. But it’s been able to use its resources to help health care workers.

Several of the 3D printers at Library 21c, which can normally be reserved by the public to use at a low cost, are now churning out face shield parts for Make4Covid, a group working to supply 3D-printed personal protective equipment, or PPE, to rural hospitals.

Colorado College faculty and staff are also pitching in to fill the PPE gap, using the college’s 3D printers and lasers to make face shields for hospitals and other emergency management services.

Staff from Mathematics and Computer Science, Art, Psychology, ITS and Creativity & Innovation are joining forces to making hundreds of face shields over the coming weeks. 

They’ve partnered with the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management Team to understand the exact needs of the local health care teams — and UCHealth has said they will take everything CC can produce. 

“We are looking to scale our production capacity,” said Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science Andrea Bruder, “and we would like to collaborate with others in Colorado who have 3D printing capabilities.”

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