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Cleveland-based U.S. Cotton tackles swab shortage for COVID-19 tests

The west side manufacturer plans to make 150 million swabs by the end of the year.

CLEVELAND — A Cleveland company is helping to alleviate one of the biggest bottlenecks to COVID-19 testing, which is a nationwide shortage of swabs to take samples.

U.S. Cotton, located on Industrial Parkway near West 150th Street, has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to manufacture a new synthetic swab for COVID-19 tests. The company is the country's largest manufacturer of cotton swabs.

U.S. Cotton's president, John Nims, said the design looks like a Q-tip, except the ends are made of polyester and not cotton.

"We're pretty excited about being able to do that and help," Nims said. "As we get people trained on the different process, we'll go [24/7] and make as many as we can for as long as these swabs are needed."

He said the swabs can be used for both healthcare testing sites and stay-at-home testing kits.

The swabs are made of synthetic materials, because cotton has its own DNA, since it's a plant, and can potentially contaminate test samples. Approval of the new nasal swab was fast-tracked, with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provided the FDA with the technical studies of the design. 

"I can't be more overjoyed," said Brian Kazy, city councilman for Cleveland's ward 16. "It's a local business right up the street from where we are, and we couldn't be more elated to have something like this to help with the prevention and cure of this treacherous pandemic." 

More than 400 employees work at the west side facility. Nims said the company does not expect to add jobs, but hopes to increase production as they get more experience with making the swabs. The facility can currently make 3-million swabs per week, but Nims expects that the plant will manufacture 150-million swabs by the end of the year.

Production of the swabs begins this week. Equipment will be repurposed with existing personnel. 

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