Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, as management at Carolina CoverTech was struggling to sanitize the North Augusta plant and convince employees it was safe to stay at work, an unusual order came in.

It didn’t come from any of the manufacturer’s usual customers, which do everything from sell commercial awnings to supply heavy-duty spill-containment devices to chemical plants and oil-exploration companies.

This order was from a distributor of autopsy, anatomy and pathology equipment.

It wanted a run of 500 leak-proof bags with multiple carry handles. The dimensions were roughly 6-feet long by 3-feet wide.

“We’re not calling them body bags, but that’s what they are,” Carolina CoverTech President Rian True said. “We’re not trying to deceive our employees, because they know what they are. We just call them ‘panel bags.’ ”

True said medical supplier Mopec’s initial order has since been followed up with a verbal request for 5,000 more bags. Although COVID-19 deaths have not come close to worst-case-scenario projections, True strongly believes the pandemic is what prompted the order.

“I think it was people looking up at their shelves and saying, ‘Hey we got short,’ ” True said.

While Carolina CoverTech would prefer producing its higher-margin spill-containment products – a segment that has dropped off amid record-low crude prices – True said the company is simply grateful to have orders coming through the door.

The company also recently received a boost by making disaster-relief shelter components for Western Shelter Products, a supplier of FEMA-style tents used to temporarily house first responders.

True said the shelter panels Carolina CoverTech makes for the Eugene, Ore.-based company is one of a handful of products that has helped the manufacturer remain classified as an “essential business” throughout the pandemic lockdown.

Carolina CoverTech received attention last month for helping supply University Hospital with disposable isolation gowns. Like many hospitals, University’s supplies of the personal protection smocks were depleted during the early weeks of the pandemic.

Within a week and a half of receiving a gown template, the company was shipping the hospital 2,000 per day. The disposable gowns might remain in Carolina CoverTech’s product mix even after the hospital’s supply chain returns to normal; the peach packers at J.W. Yonce & Sons orchards in Johnston, S.C., are using the gowns help keep itchy peach fuzz off their clothes.

In late April, Carolina CoverTech further diversified its operation by acquiring North Carolina-based School Safety Supply, an online-only supplier of concealment products used to thwart active-shooter situations. True said he decided to purchase the company after serving as its contract manufacturer during the past two years.

The core product is a black-out window covering designed to fit over the rectangular windows found in most classroom doors.

“The No. 1 thing in an active-shooter situation is if he can’t see in the door and he can’t get in the door, he’s probably moving on,” True said. “It’s a growing market, sadly.”

Carolina CoverTech’s final foray outside its normal industrial-supply channels has been making fashionable face masks for Columbia, S.C.-based Koss Creative, a screenprinter specializing in Southern lifestyle-themed apparel.

True believes the 100% cotton masks are the first non-coated fabric products the company has ever made. Carolina CoverTech fabricates most of its products using industrial stitching machines and radio-frequency welders that bond polymers at a molecular level.

All that’s required to make Koss’ masks are a $300 household sewing machine. True acknowledged the product falls outside the company’s core specialty, but said he primarily took on the venture to help his friend, Koss Creative owner Rusty Koss, find a retail market.

“He thinks that people might continue to wear maks, at least when they travel, for indefinite period of time,” True said. “He believes they’ll want something more fashionable than just a plain mask.”

IT’S PERMIT TIME: A trio of building permits have caught my attention in recent days.

The first is a $1.4 million strip mall project next to the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Evans at 280 S. Belair Road. Developer Pui Yin Chan’s 12,800-square-foot retail strip will feature nine storefronts, marketed as being available for lease in September. Aside from the aforementioned Walmart, the 6-acre property also has an O’Reilly Auto Parts.

The second permit is a $2.1 million job for the new MedNow urgent- and primary-care clinic at 3044 Peach Orchard Road in south Augusta. The 4,600-square-foot clinic on a -acre parcel previously occupied by Emilio’s Italian Eatery also is expected to open this fall.

And last but not least is a $10.1 million federal contract awarded to Allen-Batchelor Construction by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for new single-family officer housing units at Fort Gordon.

COTILLION QUEST: Augusta already has cotillions – the Augusta Symphony Guild Cotillion and the Rosa T. Beard Debutante Club immediately spring to mind – but it doesn’t have a junior cotillion.

At least not one affiliated with the National League of Junior Cotillions. The Charlotte, N.C.-based organization is hoping to change that this year.

The 120-member body said it is seeking to establish a chapter in Augusta and hopes to have a local director in place by August. For those of you who don’t know what a cotillion is, it helps teach young people manners, etiquette and semi-useful skills such as ballroom dancing.

“This program is making a positive impact on students across the nation and we are delighted to know more young people will be having the opportunity to utilize this vital training,” National League President Charles Winters said.

Think you’re up for the job? Give the league a call at (800) 633-7947.

SLEEPING SOUNDLY?: OK … Here’s a study that crossed my inbox.

And I made the air-quote gesture when I typed the word “study.”

The online sleep-industry review and information site, Sleepopolis, has crunched a bunch of numbers on various health and environmental factors to create a “sleep score” for multiple locales … including ours. On this score, 100 is blissful slumber and 0 is a bed of rusty nails.

Sleepopolis’ data for Georgia shows the metro area’s Columbia County bedroom communities doing well in the bedroom, with sleep scores of 85.34 for No. 5 Evans; 83.64 for No. 33 Martinez; and 83.3 for No. 43 Grovetown.

The big city is much more restless; Augusta’s sleep score of 80.77 puts it No. 124 out of 159 communities.

The Georgia community with the No. 1 sleep score of 86.82 was Milton, a place I have never been but understand to be “an affluent rural-suburban city in Fulton County,” according to the all-knowing overlords at Wikipedia. The worst sleep score on the list, 79.44, was Albany, a place I have visited. Once.

Those aforementioned “health and environmental factors” include a community’s smoking rate, insufficient sleep rate, mentally unhealthy days, physical inactivity, air pollution levels and unemployment rate.

Precisely how Sleepopolis calculates “insufficient sleep rate” and “mentally unhealthy days” is unbeknownst to me.

But Sleepopolis does say that, “Hopefully, this extended period of working from home will help to reduce air pollution and therefore add to even more sleep hours banked per month.”

Hey folks, I read these studies so you don’t have to.

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