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Pandemic pivots: these Atlantic Canada residents are making the COVID-19 pandemic work for them

Christine Goudie and her team at Granville Biomedical have successfully developed Health Canada-approved nasopharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 testing after pivoting during the pandemic.
Christine Goudie and her team at Granville Biomedical have successfully developed Health Canada-approved nasopharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 testing after pivoting during the pandemic. - SaltWire Network

There can be little worse in the professional world than finding your work at a crossroads during a pandemic.

But being in a place with nothing to lose can be oddly emboldening as well, as some East Coast residents have found as they’ve tried new jobs and new tactics on for size, finding new approaches that have not only worked for them but allowed their professional selves to thrive.

Charlie Johnson has launched his career in Halifax as a real estate agent, Christine Goudie has led her biomedical team in Newfoundland to frontline COVID-19 research and Julia Campbell transformed her Prince Edward Island boutique into a thriving e-commerce web store.

The scales are different, but each has taken a chance and seen huge returns in their own respective way. They all have one thing in common: their new ventures came as a huge surprise.

“When COVID-19 happened, it was just game on. There’s no guarantees right now … but there is definitely no loss in trying,” says Goudie.

A patent-pending design

Christine Goudie and her team at Granville Biomedical, pictured here in a Zoom meeting, have successfully developed Health Canada-approved nasopharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 testing after pivoting during the pandemic.  - SaltWire Network
Christine Goudie and her team at Granville Biomedical, pictured here in a Zoom meeting, have successfully developed Health Canada-approved nasopharyngeal swabs for COVID-19 testing after pivoting during the pandemic. - SaltWire Network

Goudie is the co-founder and chief executive officer of the Newfoundland and Labrador-based Granville Biomedical, a company she launched alongside co-founder Crystal Northcott to produce and deliver 3D-printed women’s health task simulators as a response to a lack of resources in hands-on learning.

While initially concerned for what COVID-19 would spell for the company’s early success, Goudie and her team decided to pivot when the government asked companies to help address the extreme shortage of health-care personal protective equipment, or PPE.

Granville's biomedical engineers designed 3D-printed face shields and button-pushers to eliminate the need to touch hard surfaces and found success through a combination of donations and sales. But, when Goudie saw what nasopharyngeal swabs were available to market, she felt sure her company could produce a more effective design.

Its final iteration has since been approved by Health Canada and the design of the three approved swabs is now patent-pending.

From vulvas to nasal canals.⁣ ⁣ In the early days of the pandemic, Granville Biomedical answered the call to address the wide-spread shortage of COVID testing swabs. ⁣ ⁣ Eager to help, the Granville team immediately redirected internal efforts by scaling capacity to pursue production of Nasopharyngeal swabs while simultaneously continuing advancements in women’s health.⁣ ⁣ What followed, was a novel nasal swab that is now in its final stages of validation testing. 🙌🏽⁣ ⁣ The Granville G-Swab will be available for sample requests and pre-orders on our website - granvillebiomedical.ca. ⁣ ⁣ 🌎International shipping available.⁣ ⁣ 📨Let us know how we can assist your testing needs.⁣ ⁣ #nasopharyngealswab #npswab #gswab #covidtesting #healthtech #patientcare #covid19 #healthcare

A post shared by Granville Biomedical (@granvillebiomedical) on

“What we’ve created is comparable to the gold-standard existing swab and almost on par in terms of specimen collection. We are very excited, as this is something that could be used in health care long-term,” says Goudie.

The company will prioritize keeping the swabs’ manufacturing and production within Canada, where it now splits its team between Calgary and Newfoundland, and also plans to bring the swabs back full-circle. Goudie has plans for future swab iterations to be used in women’s health, where she plans on revolutionizing pelvic swabs available for women.

“There’s a bigger picture at play here. We always keep in mind why we started the company: how it circles back to impacting women’s health long-term,” says Goudie.

Representation matters

Charlie Johnson moved from St. John’s, N.L. with his partner Kastin Bradley to Halifax, where he has begun a new job as a realtor.  - Katie Redmond photo - SaltWire Network
Charlie Johnson moved from St. John’s, N.L. with his partner Kastin Bradley to Halifax, where he has begun a new job as a realtor. - Katie Redmond photo - SaltWire Network

Charlie Johnson was living in St. John’s, N.L. with his partner Kastin Bradley and working as a bartender and full-time fitness salesperson before COVID-19. It was a schedule that left him feeling burnt out, knowing these jobs were not for him.

When he kept returning to the idea of real estate, he figured it was worth exploring.

“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. When I went back to the drawing board, I found this. It lined up all the things I was looking for,” says Johnson.

But his new career plan was met with the news of a globally spreading pandemic, and things were looking bleak. Pouring thousands into this new career suddenly seemed like it may have been a wrong move.

When realtors were deemed essential workers, Johnson dove in, pouring over real estate books, making connections among fellow Royal LePage Atlantic agents, and setting himself up as Halifax’s queer realtor.

“It’s important that the LGTBQIA2S+ community is represented in these white, cisgender-dominated professions. Real estate is still seen as an old boys’ game, and I want to change that,” says Johnson.

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Johnson’s timing couldn’t have been better, as Halifax’s market continues heating up, but his biggest win of all is having made a seemingly impossible dream a reality: holding his first-ever open house.

“This is the happiest I’ve ever been professionally. I think it’s only up from here,” he says.

Buying into online

Julia Campbell and her mother, Maureen Campbell, were both in Guangzhou when the COVID-19 pandemic began in China.  - SaltWire Network
Julia Campbell and her mother, Maureen Campbell, were both in Guangzhou when the COVID-19 pandemic began in China. - SaltWire Network

JEMS Boutique store co-owner Julia Campbell and her mother, Maureen Campbell, were in Guangzhou, China when news of a potential pandemic began spreading. As they stood in line for a train from the city to Hong Kong, they noticed a separate line where Chinese travellers were being tested before travel.

“We knew something was up, but still had no idea that something was COVID-19. But a month later, everything in China was shut down,” says Julia.

After returning home, JEMS Boutique and all other Prince Edward Island shops shut their doors during the lockdown. She spent hours inside the store, posting items for sale on social media, and managing e-transfer transactions, working as hard as she had while running the brick and mortar store.

But as online interest began growing, the answer appeared before her: go digital, and bring her newly designed Go2 Clothing line and other merchandise to customers online.

JEMS Boutique launched its e-commerce website with help from the store’s general manager and digital contributors, and orders began arriving almost immediately. This sudden and surprising success meant Julia could rehire every staff person who’d been laid off due to the pandemic.

Sales began increasing exponentially, and it became clear this could be the store’s way of the future. While she says the store will only return to its former numbers when a robust tourist season returns, this online venture will be one that stays.

“We still definitely rely on a tourism model, but online sales will continue to be integral for us in this new normal,” says Julia.

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