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President Donald Trump is reportedly planning to use a Korean War-era law to help a Piscataquis County company increase its production of the medical testing swabs that are necessary to confirm cases of the coronavirus.
During a Sunday news briefing, Trump said that he planned to invoke the Defense Production Act to vastly increase the production of a particular type of testing swab at one U.S. facility.
Timothy Templet, a co-owner of the company and executive vice president of global sales, declined to speak with a reporter Monday morning.
“I have no comment for you,” he said, when reached by phone.
The White House did not directly respond to a request for additional information or confirmation that Trump was referring to Puritan Medical Products. During the briefing, Trump said that the White House was having “a little difficulty” with the company.
“We also are going to be using, and we’re preparing to use, the Defense Production Act to increase swab production in one U.S. facility by over 20 million additional swabs per month,” Trump said, according to an official transcript. “We’ll be getting the swabs, very easily.”
In an update to CNN’s report, Trump’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, clarified that the White House was planning to give Puritan more federal funding to boost its production.
“In the case referenced by President Trump, [the Defense Department] is finalizing negotiations under DPA Title III with Puritan,” Navarro said, according to CNN. “With DPA support, Puritan will be able to increase its industrial capacity in machine tooling, people, and facilities with the broader goal of increasing nasal swab production from 3 million to more than 20 million within 30 days of the contract award.”
First passed in 1950, the Defense Production Act allows the federal government to compel companies to prioritize the production of materials deemed to be necessary for national security.
Trump has been reluctant to invoke the law in response the coronavirus pandemic, but has used it in at least a few other cases, including to force General Motors to make hospital ventilators and to seize tens of thousands surgical masks from a hoarder in New York and New Jersey, according to the New York Times.
Templet, at Puritan Medical Products, has previously said that the company was able to produce between 800,000 and 1 million of the swabs that are necessary to test for the coronavirus in a week. Those swabs are long enough to reach the back of the nose and made of plastic handles with synthetic tips.
While the company was struggling in March to hire enough workers to meet the new demand for the swabs, it had recruited at least 31 new temporary employees by mid-April and was looking to hire another 10 to 15, according to the Morning Sentinel.
In addition to producing the specialized swabs needed to test for the coronavirus, it also makes other medical materials including applicators and tongue depressors, according to its website.
It’s not clear whether increasing the production of swabs for the U.S. government would eat into the other parts of Puritan’s business. It’s also not clear how much federal funding the company would receive to increase its production of testing swabs. CNN reported that the administration hadn’t yet finalized its use of the Defense Production Act with Puritan.
The company has about 300 workers. It is part of a bigger company, Hardwood Products Company LP, that is the largest employer in Piscataquis County with about 550 workers. It is one of the world’s top-two producers of the medical swabs that are in short supply as the country tries to ramp up testing for the coronavirus, according to Kaiser Health News.
The other largest maker of the swabs, Copan Diagnostics Inc., is based in a region of Italy heavily hit by the pandemic.
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