The U.S. is set to receive about 1 million nasal swabs with which to test for coronavirus each week in an ongoing mission from Italy, Peter Navarro, White House director of trade and manufacturing policy, said in an interview.
Manufacturer Copan Diagnostics has committed to providing the swabs on an ongoing basis from their Italian facility, and two more shipments are scheduled to arrive in the U.S. late Thursday evening and Friday, Navarro said.
Another shipment of 500,000 swabs was transported Thursday and arrived in Memphis, Air Force Air Mobility Command spokesman Col. Damien Pickart, said in a statement Friday. The additional swabs were transported by FedEx for distribution across the U.S.
This is to “prevent a bottleneck in the testing protocol supply chain,” and thereby prevent a shortage, Navarro said. Nasal swabs are necessary to test people for the coronavirus, and some areas have already reported shortages. Many nasal swabs are manufactured in Italy.
The first shipment, which arrived March 18, had about 800,000 swabs, of which 500,000 included collection vials, and the U.S. Air Force will be flying as many as three flights a week to pick up the supplies from Aviano Air Base north of Venice for “the foreseeable future,” Navarro said.
The swabs are being flown in by U.S. forces because travel restrictions in Italy have prevented Copan from shipping the product.
Navarro helped smooth the way for the mission led by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency through Defense Department Acquisition head Ellen Lord. Lord cleared the mission with Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and his staff helped coordinate the broader mission.
The missions will be flown by crews from the Air Force Air Mobility Command, which handled the initial flight.
The command “is postured to support additional requests to deliver COVID-19 testing supplies in the coming days and weeks,” Pickart said in an email.
The command has set up a round-the-clock Crisis Battle Staff and Operational Planning Team to plan and execute missions like the first one, he said.