Medical grade masks are widely regarded as the highest quality protection option against infection, and they have been in high demand throughout the health crisis. 3M started ramping up production of N95 at the end of January, just weeks after the novel coronavirus emerged late last year in China. The industrial giant is now on track to produce 2 billion N95 masks this year, about half of them in the United States, according to Roman.
Despite this, shortages of personal protective equipment for health workers, including masks, remained present during the pandemic. The problem takes on renewed importance in the United States now that hospitalizations due to Covid-19 are increasing in 36 states.
Public health experts have stressed the importance of people wearing masks in slowing the transmission of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the general public should not wear N95 in order to reserve the supply for health workers and first responders. Instead, the agency recommends people wear cloth headgear.
In March, as the Covid-19 epidemic in the United States worsened, some retailers were criticized for having N95 masks on their shelves. Roman acknowledged that there is “strong consumer demand” for respirator masks due to their reputation for being very effective.
But he said 3M continues to direct its new supply to hospital workers and other healthcare professionals. The company is also working alongside the Department of Health and Human Services to “make sure we focus on the hot spots,” Roman said.
“It’s always the priority,” he added. “We will continue to look for ways to support consumers, and our consumer teams are researching innovative new types of masks in addition to N95 respirators, so we will work to address those as well. ”
3M has also filed more than a dozen lawsuits in response to fraudulent N95 masks and price gouging during the health crisis. In mid-October, around 3.5 million fake respirators were seized by law enforcement, CNBC’s Seema Mody reported.
3M shares fell 1.4% on Tuesday after the Dow component reported third quarter earnings that eclipsed Wall Street expectations. The company recorded strong sales for its personal health and safety equipment.
Roman said he believes the company has done an “incredible job” to respond to the pandemic. “We said we would add capacity both through our own investments and in partnership with the Department of Defense. We have now acted on that, and we have added that capacity to get into what we saw as a potential second wave of Covid cases, ”he said.
“And we have lived up to our commitment to bring over 200 million respirators from overseas production to the United States due to the demand here, so we have found ways to respond,” he added. .