CHICAGO -- Pillar Booth launched less than a year ago, selling soundproof "phone booths" companies can put in their offices to provide a distraction-free place for employees to work.
Such booths are gaining popularity as a respite from the noisiness of the open office. But with everyone working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic, Pillar Booth co-founder Ryan Leavitt had a new idea.
Enter the Pillar Protect Booth, a Plexiglas phone booth-shaped structure created to protect health care workers while they administer COVID-19 tests.
"Orders are still coming in (for the Pillar Booth), but we can't deliver anything because nobody's in the office," he said. "Now we're actually able to use the time and resources to ramp up the Protect Booth."
The health care worker steps inside the booth and sticks he or her arms through long rubber gloves attached to one of the walls, administers the test and uses the shelves attached to the outside of the booth to hold equipment.
The gloves can be removed to be washed or disinfected. The booth is weatherproof, to accommodate the outside testing being done at many facilities, and it has wheels, so it can be easily moved.
Leavitt saw other countries enclosing their health care workers in booths as protection, and asked his wife, a nurse practitioner, if she thought it would work. Then he sought other consults.
"We've talked to a lot of different health care providers in all different areas," he said. "We've talked to people that are in testing facilities, people that are in ICUs, people that are in the emergency room."
It took about 21/2 weeks to design the booths, engineer the prototypes and get production going. The company officially launched the product in late April, and Leavitt said it will be ready to deliver soon.
The booths will be sold to hospitals, health care facilities and municipalities. Leavitt wants to donate some too. The company is partnering with Morgan Li, a Chicago Heights-based manufacturer of store fixtures and hotel furniture, to make the booths.
Eventually, the booths could be used outside of the health care industry, Leavitt said. When the world returns to work, people in some professions will still need protections, and the Pillar Protect Booth might be a solution, he said. Maybe it's even a worker taking tickets. There is already demand from medical spas, where employees are required to get close to a client's face.
But for now, protecting health care workers is the focus, Leavitt said. The Protect Booth is a way to help out immediately, and he said he's happy to have found a way to lend a hand.
"They're the people on the front lines that need to be there and can help us get through this," he said. "We're in this booth world. We have the resources."
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