May 21 2020
As the United States gradually reopens, increased testing for COVID-19 is expected to be an essential component of resuming economic activity across the country. Several states, including New York, have included testing per capita as a part of the criteria for allowing regions of their state to reopen. Scaling up production of COVID-19 tests presents an almost unprecedented challenge in terms of supply chains, as these tests require a variety of different material resources and skilled labor to be deployed safely and effectively.
Coronavirus tests require nylon and foam nasal swabs, as opposed to more commonly available cotton swabs. The production of these nasal swabs is primarily conducted by two companies within the Medical instrument and Supply industry (IBISWorld report 33911a), Copan Diagnostics located in Brescia, Italy and Puritan Medical Products in Guilford, ME. The coronavirus outbreak in Northern Italy impeded Copan’s production processes, requiring the company to request special permission to operate amid a nationwide lockdown order. Puritan has also experienced labor shortages in their respective plant due to the ongoing crisis.
There are currently attempts underway by companies within the 3D Printing & Rapid Prototyping Services industry (OD4581) to increase the stock of nylon swabs. However, the FDA has yet to provide official guidance on how to 3D print swabs that are usable in coronavirus testing, making implementation a challenge. Additionally, production issues have raised costs for attempts to 3D print these swabs, making the 3D-printed swabs significantly more expensive than those manufactured using standard techniques.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturing is also expected to be a limiting factor to scaling up testing, as ensuring necessary supplies of PPE are available is essential to setting up a comprehensive testing system for COVID-19. Personnel involved in testing for COVID-19 require personal protective equipment in order to safeguard against infection from patients and from testing samples. Scaling up testing will require additional output from companies within the Personal Protective Equipment Manufacturing industry (OD4216), which have already strained their capacity to ensure adequate supplies for healthcare personnel and other essential workers.
In addition to material inputs, ensuring a sufficient labor supply to conduct and process COVID-19 tests is also a significant challenge. Lab testing for coronavirus is a meticulous procedure that must be done precisely, which requires skilled and trained technicians. The rapid increase in demand for these services provided by the Laboratory Testing Services industry (54138) has led to a labor shortage of technicians with the requisite training to conduct these tests, which will likely require a significant expansion of hiring and training in order to be able to handle the necessary volume of testing for a comprehensive test-and-trace system.
For more information on COVID-19 testing, please see our recent article Implications of New COVID-19 Testing Modalities.