Since the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, epidemiologists have hammered home the point that widespread, accurate testing is the only way impacted nations can safely reopen their economies. Scientists attribute the United States’ initial failure to manufacture and distribute tests as one of the primary factors that allowed the virus to spread. By last week, the country was testing approximately 264,000 people a day—a staggering number, but still far short of what experts say is necessary for life to begin to return to normal.
As a result, one of the largest global health crises in recent memory is coming down to remarkably small things, including supplies of specialized swabs, chemical reagents, and viral transport medium (VTM). The latter is a nutrient-dense fluid that allows samples of COVID-19 to continue to thrive until they can be tested.
“If you don’t have that transport medium, you have to test the sample immediately or it will become invalid,” says Robin Wilkey-Gregory, content manager at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. “When the crisis first struck, Ken [Grossman], our owner, sat down with the folks at Enloe Medical Center and asked how we could help. The shortage of VTM came up right away, because it’s been back-ordered everywhere.”
We’re so grateful for the dedicated and committed healthcare workers at the front of this crisis and are proud to help them in any way that we can.”
While Sierra Nevada didn’t have a secret stash of VTM lying around, it does have a state-of-the-art laboratory. The brewery rigorously tests samples of its beer for signs of unwanted wild bacteria or spoilage, which meant that it already had all of the necessary equipment to produce the essential testing component. Last week, the brewery began sending VTM to the local hospital and it plans to continue to ramp up production.
“We’re so pleased that we have the equipment and expertise to help supply tools for testing,” said Sierra Grossman, vice president of Sierra Nevada, in a statement. “This is an unprecedented situation that affects all of us, and we are honored to reach beyond our industry to help our community. We’re so grateful for the dedicated and committed healthcare workers at the front of this crisis and are proud to help them in any way that we can.”
Sierra Nevada has a history of lending a hand in times of crisis. When wildfires raged across California, the brewery launched the Resilience Butte County Proud IPA to raise money for relief.
“We never expected Resilience to grow into the much larger project it became,” Wilkey-Gregory says. “It was really inspiring for us to see how much good you can do when people come together.”
Although craft brewers have been particularly hard-hit by the economic effects of the pandemic, they’ve also been some of the first to reach out to others. From raising money for laid-off hospitality workers to donating hand sanitizer to hospitals to serving thousands of meals to those in need, many are looking for ways to do their part.
“Both Ken and his daughter Sierra view it as very fortunate that they have this company that’s able to take their passion for helping others to a broader and more impactful level,” Wilkey-Gregory says. “That ethos has really seeped into the DNA of the brewery.”