Puritan Medical tapped to ramp up coronavirus swab testing production

The medical equipment maker that President Donald Trump said he would order to ramp up coronavirus testing swab production is characterizing that relationship as a “partnership.”

Puritan Medical Products, a privately held manufacturer based in Maine, is taking steps to make tens of millions of the specialized cotton nasal swabs needed to expand testing capacities around the country.

“It is a partnership between Puritan and the government,” Timothy Templet, the company’s executive vice president of global sales, told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in a “Mad Money” interview Tuesday. “It will allow us to build a great amount of capacity within, hopefully, five to six weeks to supply a minimum of 20 million swabs per month and up to almost 50 million swabs per month.”

Trump announced Sunday that he planned to use the Defense Production Act to step up testing swab production to address shortages nationwide, though he did not name the entity. White House trade advisor Peter Navarro on Monday described the order as a means to provide federal funding for the project.

Templet said in the interview that the company has hired nearly 50 people in the past three weeks to staff a new production facility. The plant can staff up to 130 workers and once the facility is fully operating, the family-owned business plans to implement an “automation scheme” to increase efficiency, he said.

“I believe that what’s happening is that the government is assuring that there’s enough capacity of swabs to be shipped around the United States, but also support some of the other companies that use swabs in their point of care diagnostic test kits today, as well as independent laboratories,” he said.

This isn’t the first time the Trump has used the Defense Production Act to compel companies to fulfill demands for much-needed medical supplies, such as ventilators. General Motors and General Electric are two companies that were a target of the DPA to manufacture supplies, though the industrial giants had previously announced plans to build equipment. 

Governors across the country and from both sides of the political aisle have said more testing capabilities were needed in order to satisfy efforts to reopen businesses. Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who leads one of the states hardest hit by Covid-19, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” called on the White House to use the Defense Production Act for swab and reagent production purposes, saying daily testing could triple in the state if more supplies were available. Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” said governors in each state have been “pushing and fighting and clawing” to expand testing capabilities.

Puritan Medical expects to make a difference in the fight against coronavirus, Templet said.

This effort “will put many millions of swabs in the market place over the next few months and we’re not going to stop,” he said. “We have the wherewithal to make many, many hundreds of millions of swabs and … we’re going to make it happen for the United States.”

Disclosure: Cramer’s charitable trust owns shares of General Electric.

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