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Swab Manufacturer Works To Meet 'Overwhelming' Demand

To test for the coronavirus, you need a swab.

But only two companies in the world manufacture the specialized instrument used to collect a sample from noses.

The limited supply has led to a shortage in the U.S. and a scramble by those two manufacturers to produce more.

One of those companies, Puritan Medical Products, based in Guilford, Maine has ramped up its production to more than 1 million swabs per week, according to Timothy Templet, the company's vice president of sales.

Templet spoke with NPR's All Things Considered on Wednesday about the pressures on the company to meet the "overwhelming" demand.

"There's a lot of pressure, but I think what's happening now is there's so many new rapid test manufacturers who have been approved."

Here's more from the conversation:

On why these specialized swabs are needed for testing

The swab handle is very flexible, which it allows the handle to reach the nasal pharyngeal cavity to collect the specimen. The standard wood cotton or Q-Tip does not have the ability to bend through the nasal passage to go to the area that the sample is collected in.

On the demand for swabs

It's overwhelming, to be frank. We are running now six days a week, two shifts, 10 hours a day. We are producing over a million of that particular swab a week to service what is needed here in the United States. And a lot of it now is being directed through government channels to get to the drive-through collection sites that have been set up throughout the United States.

On the challenges that come with making these specialized swabs

There's a lot of science to it and we have patents for flex swabs. And the material itself is special. The swab itself has got to meet certain standards and there's a lot of work that goes in before you put a swab on the market for use.

On the company's efforts to meet the unprecedented spike in demand

We are hiring as many people as we can because, where we are in rural Maine, it's difficult to find people. But today, with many people losing their jobs, it's been easy to get temporary employees.

NPR's Noah Caldwell, Jonaki Mehta and Justine Kenin produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.