By The Herald News
If you haven’t had any luck lately finding at-home COVID-19 test kits in pharmacies and stores — and chances are you haven’t — you might want to contact Merrow Manufacturing.
“They’re available; they’re here,” said Merrow Manufacturing CEO Charlie Merrow.
The Fall River manufacturer of overlock sewing machines and commercial “technical soft goods” took delivery this past weekend of 500,000 test kits made by South Korean biopharmaceutical company Celltrion.
Each Celltrion DiaTrust box contains 25 antigen rapid-diagnostic test kits. They sell for $325 per box, which comes out to $13 per nasal-swab test kit.
Local stores were almost always selling two kits per box, when they were able to keep them in stock.
Merrow said he anticipates he’ll soon take delivery of test packs containing just two testing kits.
All air shipments, he said, are arriving either at TF Green Airport in Rhode Island or Logan International Airport in Boston.
Merrow said he’s confident Celltrion will deliver half a million test kits over the next six weeks — roughly 3 million at-home coronavirus test kits that would be available to the general public.
He says he’s giving priority to orders being placed from the southeastern region of the state and Rhode Island.
With other brands of in-demand test kits, he said, “You can order millions but only get thousands.”
Self-Test Kits for Employees and the Public at Large
Merrow, 44, said he brokered a deal with the South Korean company last November when he was trying to find a reliable test-kit manufacturer able to provide a six-month supply for his 300 employees.
Merrow said, for now at least, his employees have the option of being tested at the worksite.
He says there’s neither a minimum nor maximum quantity requirement or limitation when ordering the Celltrion kits — which either can be picked up at the Merrow Manufacturing building at 502 Bedford St., or be delivered the next day by UPS when orders are placed before 3 p.m.
In addition to the current retail price for businesses, nonprofits and individuals, Merrow said municipalities can pay a slightly cheaper purchase price, as result of his company having qualified for a statewide HLS06 Homeland Security, Public Safety and Traffic Safety Supplies contract.
Merrow said he ordered rapid test kits instead of the "gold standard" PCR tests because of the former’s 15-minute test-result turnaround time.
“The PCR takes too long, and the labs (that process those tests) are filling up,” he said.
Merrow said he’ll donate some kits to a select number of nonprofit groups that request them.
As of Monday, he said, two days after taking delivery of 20,000 separate kit boxes, Merrow said he had donated testing kits to the United Way of New Bedford and Dartmouth-based Round The Bend Farms.
Avoiding Black Market Sales Amid Price Volatility
Merrow says he’s concerned that some people might try to buy up quantities of the 25-kit packages to sell on the black market.
He said if an order comes in for an unusually large amount, he’ll do his best to verify that the buyer has good intentions.
“It’s gonna happen,” Merrow said. “We anticipate there will be some bad actors, but we’ll vet them.”
He also said he won’t sell kits to wholesalers.
Merrow said the market for at-home COVID test kits has been unpredictable and volatile. He says wholesale prices have doubled within the last two weeks.
The Celltrion kits are more expensive than those offered by Chinese competitors, but he insists they are of higher quality.
Merrow said he takes pride knowing that a Fall River company has managed to amass such a vast inventory of antigen at-home test kits, just as omicron variant infection rates continue to soar in the country.
“It’s a combination of entrepreneurial spirit and community involvement,” he said.
Merrow also said the key to his company’s success in finding a reliable source for testing kits — at a time when they are in such short supply — comes down to forethought.
“Planning wins the day,” he said.
This article was published by The Herald News January 11, 2022. Charlie Merrow is a member of the SPESA Board. Merrow Manufacturing is part of the Merrow Group, along with SPESA member Merrow Sewing Machine Company.