I, like so many others, have found myself getting sucked into a new mystery. It's not the latest true crime podcast or bingeable TV show, but rather something affecting us personally. The question appears at least once a week on a group text chain: Do you know where we can find COVID-19 home tests in stock?
It's a question facing individuals, companies and schools trying to keep the latest pandemic surge under control. It's also one that involves the plastics industry.
Puritan Medical Products of Maine is the only U.S.-based maker of swab sticks used in the COVID-19 test kits and it relies on suppliers like Teel Plastics LLC of Baraboo, Wis., to make the plastic sticks used for those swabs.
Teel — one of five finalists for Plastics News' Processor of the Year — is in the midst of expanding extrusion and injection molding production in Wisconsin to keep up with demand.
While it may seem like a straightforward business story about demand outstripping supply and investments in U.S.-made medical products, the background at Puritan Medical Products is far more complex than expected.
As Bloomberg reported last year, Puritan is a family-owned company in which certain members of the family don't get along. There's an ongoing lawsuit between cousins leading the company.
In 2020, the federal government invoked the Defense Production Act to invest $250 million in Puritan to boost production even if company leaders couldn't reach an agreement on how to expand, Bloomberg wrote.
The lawsuit is continuing even as Puritan continues to ramp up production in Maine while also building a new plant in Tennessee, the Washington Post wrote last week. (Timothy Templet, Puritan Medical Products' executive vice president of sales, is not commenting on the suit.)