Gaston County company develops synthetic swab for COVID-19 testing

BELMONT, N.C. — As more testing is needed across the country, US Cotton has developed an important product that will help with the testing process.

US Cotton is the largest manufacturer of cotton swabs, and a subsidiary of Parkdale-Mills. It has plants in Gaston County.

>> Have questions about the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the Carolinas? We have an entire section dedicated to coverage of the outbreak -- CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

Its Belmont plant makes cotton balls, and other cotton beauty products.

The household product, the cotton swab, is now being reinvented to help with COVID-19 testing.

“We’re very excited to do it. We’re proud to do it. At times, it’s become a little overwhelming… at the scale we’re trying to do,” CEO and President of US Cotton John Nims said.

Nims, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Food and Drug Administration asked them to make a swab for COVID-19 testing.

While the company specializes in cotton products, FEMA called to see if they could make a synthetic swab.

“Subsequently there was a follow up call… ‘Well can you make one with polyester on the tip, with a plastic stick, rather than your cotton and paper stick?’ I came to understand why ... because cotton carries its own DNA because it’s a plant and there can be nothing that contaminates the testing,” Nims said.

The polyester swab is now being manufactured at the company’s plant in Cleveland, Ohio.

In a COVID-19 test, the swab will be used to gather a sample at the entrance of the nasal cavity.

This week, LabCorp announced at-home testing kits will soon go to healthcare workers.

Nims said it’s possible their new swab could be part of that kit.

“I think its a goal for people to be able to do the at-home test, and then send to a specific lab to have the swab tested for the virus,” he said.

According to Nims, there is one machine producing the new synthetic swab. He said their goal is to manufacture 3 million a week on that machine.

>> We’ll bring you LIVE updates on Channel 9 Eyewitness News. Get extended coverage on the free WSOC Now app on Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV.