TRAVERSE CITY — Decorative one day, disease-resistant the next.

To reduce the amount of time COVID-19 lingers on metal surfaces, Great Lakes Stainless put its knowledge of No. 29 on the periodic table of elements into a different use.

Normally a decorative fabricated element, the Traverse City company pressed copper into a different use. Great Lakes Stainless is using copper push plates and pull bars to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

According to the National Institute for Health, COVID-19 was detectable for up to four hours on copper. The virus could be found up to 24 hours on cardboard and two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

“It’s been known for some time that copper has antimicrobial properties,” Great Lakes Stainless President Michael DeBruyn said. It’s the only metal that is (Environmental Protection Agency) registered.

“It starts killing any germs on contact and 3-4 hours later, everything is dead on it.”

When the coronavirus pandemic was growing quickly in March in the United States, DeBruyn and company officials decided to do something about it.

“When things started going nuts, we had the idea to outfit our own facility with them,” he said. “They are easy enough to install quickly and affordably over existing door handles.”

A few days later, Great Lakes Stainless launched www.copperkillsit.com. Featured products included copper push plates and crash bar covers, as well as push- and pull-bar covers.

A few days after the website launch, Great Lakes Stainless had the products installed at Brew in downtown Traverse City.

“He jumped on them right away,” DeBruyn said of Brew co-owner Sean Kickbush.

Locally the Woodland School and a drug store in Elk Rapids have placed orders. DeBruyn said state factories and credit unions have also investigated the copper covers. Inquiries have come from as far away as Chicago and Ohio.

“We’ve had some good interest,” he said. “It’s been doing really well.”

DeBruyn said the company kept a reduced staff of 35 employed and collecting their normal paycheck. Great Lakes Stainless normally employs about 55, but is limited to essential work in health care and transportation infrastructure clients.

So the copper product lines are helping keep regular paychecks to as much of the staff at Great Lakes Stainless as possible.

“We’re able to get a little more cash flowing while we’re helping people out,” DeBruyn said. “It’s a win-win.”

DeBruyn said there is an important distinction to be made with the new product line.

“Just because it looks like copper doesn’t mean it is copper,” he said. “It has to be pure copper, and it has to be uncoated.”

Despite the niche products, don’t expect the sister company to Grand Traverse Refrigeration, Inc. to change to Great Lakes Copper.

“Not quite yet,” DeBruyn said with a laugh.

According to the company website, Great Lakes Stainless started with a single employee in 1995 when demand for food service repair and equipment led the owners of Grand Traverse Refrigeration to expand its fabrication division. GLS moved to its current home in the fall of 2003 and now occupies a 60,000-square-foot facility.

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