As the United States tries to dramatically ramp up testing for the coronavirus, Teel Plastics Inc. has boosted production of the injection molded and extruded long thin shafts used by the only swab maker in the United States — and one of only two in the world to make the key product.
For Teel, in Baraboo, Wis., it's not a story of rapid conversion, but a massive increase in manufacturing from what it already makes for Puritan Medical Products in Guilford, Maine.
"We've been doing business with them for over 40 years, mostly in extrusion of plastic swabs. Probably about two years ago, we started doing injection molding of swabs for them," Christian Herrild, director of growth strategies, said.
Timothy Templet, Puritan Medical's vice president of sales, said the only other company to make the diagnostic testing swabs is in Italy.
"Teel has become a very important supplier to us. They were one of our leading suppliers of handles," Templet said.
Mass public testing could let medical and government leaders determine how many people have been exposed to the coronavirus and are already immune. That could define the scope of the spread and, by isolating more known carriers, allow a gradual reopening of businesses.
That puts Puritan Medical Products — and Teel Plastics — on the front line of a critical effort to solve the overwhelming shortage.
"We're running six days a week, two 10-hour shifts," Templet said. And the company is hiring machine operators for the COVID-19 testing production, both full and part time.
"What's happening is a lot of people, they're not working now so they're looking to make some extra income. So they're coming and working as temporary or full time if they wish. Some of them will come for one month. Some people will come for three months," he said.