Renderings show a retrofitted Puritan Medical Products manufacturing plant in Pittsfield, left, and how a new second factory would look, right, during a reception in October 2020 announcing the building of the second factory to make medical swabs for COVID-19 testing. The production of testing swabs has fallen dramatically since the World Health Organization announced in May an end to the pandemic emergency. Puritan officials announced Wednesday that more than 200 workers in Pittsfield will be laid off. Those workers had been placed on furlough in March. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel file

PITTSFIELD — Puritan Medical Products announced Wednesday it will eliminate 272 positions — about 215 of them at the company’s plant in Pittsfield — because demand for the testing swabs it manufactures has plummeted as the COVID-19 pandemic has waned.

The Guilford-based company will close its plant in Orlinda, Tennessee, and consolidate manufacturing operations in Maine, according to an announcement released to the news media.

The statement said Puritan is “coping with post-COVID market conditions.” The Tennessee plant opened in 2021.

The layoffs amount to more than a third of the company’s workforce, and include members of the administrative staff and employees who had been furloughed in March as production orders decreased.

“These actions are the latest — and hopefully last — measures taken in response to the post-COVID downturn,” company officials wrote in the announcement. “With lower demand for swabs and other products — compared to COVID driven peaks — Puritan has implemented these measures aimed at strengthening its operational and financial base to ensure that it is best positioned to succeed given the new market realities.”

Puritan at one point was producing about 20 million coronavirus testing swabs a month, but as the pandemic was growing into a global health crisis, the company announced in April 2020 it would double its production of swabs and hire at least 150 workers as it expanded operations at a building Cianbro Corp. owns in Pittsfield. 


The $75.5 million effort was announced at the North Main Street site by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Cianbro Chairman Peter Vigue and others.

In October 2020, Puritan, one of the top two manufacturers of testing swabs in the world, announced it was using $51.2 million in CARES Act funding to develop a second factory in Pittsfield that would increase the production of COVID-19 swabs by millions per month and create more than 200 jobs.

Cianbro said it was going to work with Puritan to rebuild the former San Antonio Shoe site at 206 SAS Drive for the facility, which was expected to produce 50 million swabs per month.

But large-scale orders for swabs have subsided, particularly since the World Health Organization announced in May that COVID-19 “no longer constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.”

Puritan said Wednesday that during its restructuring, the company tried to show compassion to its employees and their families. It continued to offer medical insurance to workers during the furlough.

“The company was proud to pay the full cost of employee health insurance premiums, while also setting up an employee assistance center to help workers apply for unemployment,” Puritan officials wrote in the announcement. “Working with the State of Maine during this difficult process, Puritan will continue to serve as a resource for current employees, answering any questions that may arise and even providing mental health counseling.”

Puritan is a family-owned business founded in 1919 that grew to become North America’s largest manufacturer of COVID-19 testing swabs. It said it relied on its “rural, small-town work ethic to meet customer demand, and that same work ethic will endure and move the company forward.”

Bob Shultz, Puritan’s president and chief financial officer, said Wednesday was a difficult day for the company.

“Layoffs aren’t just minor changes in people’s lives; they are major disruptions to the livelihoods of employees and the families as well as the communities where we live and work,” Schulz said in the announcement. “However, the swiftness and significance of the post COVID market correction has sustained and, while Puritan does not take these measures lightly, we feel that they are necessary.”

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