On April 29, 2020, Department of Defense (DoD) Spokesperson Lt. Col. Mike Andrews reported that the Department will be spending $75,500,000 under the Defense Production Act (DPA) for a new contract aiming to accelerate swab production. This is an enormously positive step toward increasing the amount of coronavirus testing throughout the country.
The Push for Swab Production
With millions more swabs for testing, states will more efficiently collect samples that can inform policymakers of accurate rates of infection. This initiative compliments efforts by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in conjunction with U.S. Cotton, a company based in Ohio, to develop a Q-tip-like swab that can be used in self-testing. U.S. Cotton already manufactures ninety billion cotton swabs annually for companies, including Target and Walmart. The company promised to produce ten million Q-tip-like swabs per month after the FDA approved its production and assured the company that domestic manufacturers would be prioritized in the purchase and distribution of necessary materials for testing.
Leveraging the DPA
The new DOD contract was awarded to Puritan Medical Products, a company based in Guilford, Maine – a town with a small population of 1,521 people. Puritan, prior to the pandemic, manufactured ubiquitous products such as home DNA kits. Since March, Puritan has been working around the clock to produce millions of swabs and coordinate distribution efforts with the federal government. The only other company making essential swabs for testing is Copan Diagnostics, Inc. in Italy. While the global supply chain remains important for international public health efforts, the DPA is intended for utilizing the best of America’s domestic resources for meeting challenges such as this pandemic.
The DoD’s Support for Public Health
With DPA money, Puritan Medical Products will be securing a facility in Maine, a town a little over thirty miles from its headquarters. By hiring one-hundred-and-fifty new employees, Puritan’s goal is to double its monthly output of swabs, which is presently anywhere from twenty million to forty million. The DoD’s funding for this DPA activity was provided by the recent stimulus package (the CARES Act, passed in March). In awarding the contract, DoD took heed of Title III of the DPA, the section of the law involved with “expansion of productive capacity and supply.” Traditionally intended for the defense industrial base, the post-9/11 Congress extended the DPA’s reach to include responses to diseases and natural disasters.
Testing is widely considered to be necessary not only for reassuring the public that they are safe and healthy, but also for helping states collect the widest range of data to responsibly assess when it will be safe to start reopening their economies. Just like masks and ventilators, swabs will be one more critical material for public health. American production will rise to the challenge.