A worker places swabs on a machine at Puritan Medical Products, a medical swab manufacturer, Friday, June 5, 2020, in Guilford, Maine. Credit: Patrick Semansky / AP

A Maine-based company that manufactures COVID-19 test and other medical swabs is furloughing more than 250 workers at its Pittsfield facilities due to a lack of demand.

Puritan Medical Products said Thursday that it intends to offer positions back to the 251 workers within six months. The furloughs come after Abbott Labs, another manufacturer of COVID-19-related medical products, laid off most of its temporary workers at its Westbrook facility earlier in February.

A foam swab manufactured by Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products is included in a BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Rapid Self-Test at Home Kit. Credit: Erin Rhoda / BDN

Puritan Medical Products, based in Guilford, opened its first Pittsfield facility in the summer of 2020 as demand for coronavirus rapid tests quickly increased during the early days of the pandemic. The plant hired approximately 400 workers when it opened in July 2020 and by November, was producing nearly 90 million foam testing swabs per month.

Puritan President Bob Shultz said the company will continue insurance benefits for its temporarily furloughed employees because it expects to recall them. It has also opened an employee assistance center at one of its two Pittsfield locations

The company opened a second Pittsfield location in the former San Antonio Shoe factory in January 2021. That plant produced “flocked swabs,” which are long and thin, with plastic rods and small synthetic fibers arranged at the tip.

The flocked swab was preferred for the laboratory-based tests that search for the virus’ genetic material.

Puritan Medical Products received millions in federal funds during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to support swab production.

Puritan also expanded by opening a plant in Orlinda, Tennessee. The company said it laid off 57 temporary employees at that location in late February.

The furloughs and layoffs will leave 117 employees at its two Pittsfield locations, 281 employees at its Guilford plant and 90 employees at its Tennessee facility, according to the company

Though the company became known for producing COVID-19 test kit swabs, it continues to produce more than 1,200 different types of swabs for a variety of industries.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.