The author of Bloomberg visited a manufacturing facility in “a charming small company that is at the center of a global health disaster.”
If you live in the USA and did a home DNA test, opened your mouth at the ENT and said “aaa”, or you measured the depth of a knife wound – most likely, you were dealing with devices from Puritan Medical Products Co. And the smear that is being tested in America when tested on Covid-19 was also most likely developed by Puritan.
Puritan, located in Guildford, Maine (population 1,521), is one of two companies that make sticks for testing for coronavirus. The other, Copan Diagnostics Inc., is based in Italy, one of the epicenters of the deadly virus. While rapid and extensive testing helps slow the spread of infection, the future of the world depends on Puritan. At least partially.
Founded in 1919 by Puritan and Hardwood, they produce products under several brands.
“Testing devices can be a weak link in expanding the diagnosis of infection,” Scott Gottlieb, former US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, wrote on Twitter. It was March 16th — four days after the first calls from the US government came to Puritan (according to Timothy Templet, Puritan’s Executive Vice President of Sales).
“From Saturday I talked on the phone with government organizations – health and social services, the Food and Drug Administration, and working groups. We discussed the possibility of conducting as many tests in the USA as possible, ”says Templet.
The government does not order tests directly from Puritan. Instead, it co-ordinates with them and other suppliers to send test tampons to where they are most needed. “We are ramping up production and packing a million sticks a week for shipments throughout the United States,” says Templet.
The company uses polyester, viscose and cotton in the production of smears. One machine grinds and whips the fibers, and the other turns them into the final material, which is applied to tampons.
Puritan and Hardwood Products Co. during the restructuring in 2002, they legally separated from each other, but have a common century-long history. It is a well-known and successful manufacturer that creates equipment for innovative products that are ahead of what Chinese imitators do. The template and other executives were concerned about the Chinese companies’ non-compliance with the intellectual property law and supported the Trump administration’s willingness to enter into open confrontation with them. This did not stop Puritan from flourishing long before the war of markets, and after.
Hardwood Products was founded in 1919 as Minto Toothpick Co. in Saginaw, Michigan. Shortly after founding, she moved to Guildford, where she began producing wooden sticks for cocktail forks or ice cream spoons. The company entered the medical market in 1928, introducing a one-time wooden tongue depressor, and registered the Puritan brand in about 20 years. Today, Puritan sells more than 1,200 products, including 65 different types of swabs, from simple cotton swabs to moistened, sterilized swabs of macro-foam with a tube that help detect norovirus. Puritan now earns more than $ 45 million a year in sales.
Puritan began by selling mint flavored toothpicks. Today Hardwood Products turns birch tree into popsicle sticks, ice cream spoons and tongue depressors.
And then the coronavirus appeared. And all of a sudden, this charming little company found itself at the center of a global health disaster.
The coronavirus test uses a swab of short fibers called “flocs” (something like tiny polyester cilia similar to nose hair). They are placed on the end of the plastic applicator (wood may affect the test results), forming a soft tip that is pushed into the patient’s nose. Unlike ordinary cotton buds, these fleecy swabs are designed specifically for collecting microscopic organisms.
In the early tests, two strokes were used: one for the nose and the other for the throat, but in order to prevent a deficiency, the leadership of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to leave one. When the sticks are ready, they are sent for sterilization to another company in Northborough, Massachusetts, then back to Puritan, and only then distributed.
“It will take some time. I hope that soon we will launch production to the full and get as many sticks as we can, ”says Templet. According to him, over the weekend alone, the company will send two million tampons for sterilization. At the same time, the company cannot stop the production of other medical products needed by its regular customers. Puritan Coronavirus Test Swabs expand the range, not replace it.
According to Templet, Puritan is moving from a five-day workweek to a six-day one, working at least 20 hours a day. Copan is also expanding its operations, says spokesman Irene Acerbee, to 24/7 production and exports tampons around the world, particularly the United States.
A woman examines and counts tampons. The roles of workers in the factory are changing so that they are not tired of repetitive actions.
The biggest problem for Puritan is the constant lack of workers. It is compounded by Trump’s increasingly tightened immigration policy. In September, executives complained about a shortage of job seekers – the city is tiny, older workers are retiring, and no new staff are appearing at Guildford – Templet is still complaining about it. Puritan hopes to attract young workers who return home early and recently dismissed employees from neighboring companies as mechanics and operators. There are 535 employees in Puritan. The template says that some Hardwood doctors are also busy in production.
“Due to labor shortages, it’s not possible to use enough machinery and equipment,” says Templet.
The company produces about 19 million tampons of all kinds every month, and could produce even more if it had more people.
Packaging and labeling swabs. According to the leadership of Puritan, employees whenever possible distance themselves from each other, wear masks and gloves.
Production employees try to distance themselves from each other and take other precautions: they carry out sanitary treatment of the premises, wear protective masks and stay at home if they feel unwell (and the company regularly pays sick leave). Every day, the temperature of employees is measured, and a personal hand antiseptic is given to each worker in the workplace.
“They are proud to be involved in the fight against the virus. They are doing everything they can, and as fast as they can, while trying to stay safe, ”says Templet. “The authorities, including me, are always ready to stand up for the machines, if necessary”
Per. Pasha Prokofiev