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Maine Swab Maker Forecasts Continued Demand Through 2021

Rebecca Conley
Maine Public
The Puritan Medical Products swab factory in Guilford in June.

The new coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on several industries around Maine in the past year. But there is at least one company that has stepped up to answer the call for needed products. And as a result, it has won a Best in Business Award from Inc. Magazine.

Timothy Templet, executive vice president of sales at Puritan Medical Supplies in Guilford, spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz abut how his company has fared during the pandemic.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Gratz: At what point did you realize what was about to happen to your company and the need for its rapid expansion.

Templet: It was about March 14, when we had calls from the government, the FDA. After that we had some calls with Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King with enforcing the need of Puritan to play a very important role in developing and producing machines to build more swabs for the COVID collection initiative.

Did you have any idea, initially, how much more production you were going to need to try to accomplish?

We had good conversations with the government, and their desire was to assist us to build an additional plant to produce at least 20 million-40 million swabs a month. And we did that in a very short period of time. Twelve weeks, I believe.

Because eventually you added a third manufacturing facility, correct?

The third facility that’s being built in Pittsfield, as well, is slated to make 50 million flocked swabs, nasal pharyngeal swabs or other bulbous nasal swabs a month.

Is there anything kind of particular about the way you make swabs that would have made the expansion, the actual creation of the facility, particularly difficult?

All of the equipment is built by us, so we had to find subcontractors outside the walls of our facility to build the equipment that we needed.

What about employees? You obviously had to add staff as well, was that a challenge?

We had to have some outside help to help us do all the vetting of the employees for the second plant Pittsfield and the third plant in Pittsfield. It was a monumental task, but we have, I believe, about 400 applicants that will be reviewed and vetted for the additional third plant. So we’ve done really well there with our partners. But it is always a concern, and that takes time, and sometimes you don’t have all the time you need to do the proper training. So everything’s done in a shortened period of time.

You’re not immune to the pandemic itself. Has that changed any of your processes in order to keep your employees safe and on the job?

There’s a heightened sanitation program. Staggering lunches, staggering breaks. We’ve run two shifts at both plants, their temperature is taken, masks are worn, and everyone’s fully gowned and the hair bouffants, which is a standard practice in our industry. They’ve all taken it in stride, they’ve done a great job and many of them have worked many, many hours a week.

Obviously, most of us are hoping for the day when we’ll need to do a lot less testing for COVID-19. Have you begun to think about what a post-COVID future is going to look like for Puritan?

Our company is very nimble, and a lot of the products that we make can go into other industries. We know of other markets that we can go into and enter into that will take a type of swab that we can make in the equipment that’s been produced for the COVID-19.

So in other words, the growth you’ve seen this year could be permanent.

We believe COVID will continue on through 2021 and into 2022. We’re working with all of our commercial customers today. We have forecasts that start ramping up again in June 2021. The home test is critically important today. A lot of our commercial customers are going after that market. And they all have to be supported by a swab.