WASHINGTON, D.C. - A Cleveland company ‘s decision to release its new line of coronavirus testing swabs in packaging meant for its old products has puzzled authorities in some of the states that got the swabs through a Trump administration program to ramp up testing for the deadly disease.
The new swabs are made of polyester so they won’t contaminate specimens with plant DNA from cotton. But U.S. Cotton used boxes from its “Comforts for Baby Cotton Swabs,” for some of the products it sent states through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Pennsylvania Department of Health press secretary Nate Wardle said the federal government sent the state over 20,000 testing swabs last week, and more are expected in upcoming weeks to to bolster the state’s swab supply.
“There was some confusion at first because they appeared to be labeled as cotton swabs and not polyester, which is what is primarily used for testing,” said an email from Wardle. “When we opened the swabs, we realized they were what was needed and none were lost, misplaced, thrown away, etc.”
Jordan Abudayyeh, spokesperson for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, told CNN that Illinois received several thousand swabs in the wrong boxes and state officials were concerned that the swabs were packaged together instead of being individually wrapped.
“These are not ideal for how we conduct testing because we usually use individually wrapped swabs that ensure there’s no cross contamination,” said Abudayyeh.
CNN and The Seattle Times reported that authorities in Washington state placed confused phone calls to the nation’s capital after getting the mislabeled swabs.
Reed Schuler, a senior adviser to Gov. Jay Inslee, told the Seattle publication that he called the White House coronavirus task force to ask “‘What exactly is this shipment we’re getting?’”
“And they said, ‘Oh sorry, ignore the packaging,’” said Schuler. “‘You were supposed to get a memo explaining that shipment.’”
The memo from U.S. Cotton CEO John B. Nims said the swabs were sent in old packaging to deliver them “as quickly as possible for those with the greatest need,” and the labels did not reflect their contents. It assured states the packages in fact contained “F.D.A. approved sterilized polyester spun swab for specimen collection of COVID-19.”
Nims did not respond to a request for comment from cleveland.com.
A FEMA spokesperson said that “in an effort to answer our country’s call to action and expedite the production and delivery of the new spun polyester swab, U.S. Cotton used existing packaging for its polyester swabs which does not accurately communicate the content of each package.
“Going forward, the spun polyester swab packaging will be blank,” the spokesperson said.
Guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says individually wrapped swabs are preferable, but bulk packaged swabs can be used if care is taken to avoid cross-contamination. The CDC advises that those who receive bulk swabs redistribute them into individual disposable plastic bags while wearing a clean set of protective gloves.
President Donald Trump announced last week that FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will deliver 12.9 million swabs to states nationwide during the month of May.
“This major commitment is possible because of the massive mobilization of American industry, including Puritan Medical Products, U.S. Cotton, Abbott Labs, and Thermo Fisher,” said Trump.