3M is making more N95 masks than ever as global Covid cases rise, CEO says

Health, Fitness & Food

3M has continued to ramp up production of its N95 respirator masks, Chairman and CEO Mike Roman told CNBC on Tuesday, as the coronavirus pandemic intensifies again in parts of the world.

“We are bringing capacity on. We are making more N95 respirators than ever, and we’ll continue to add some capacity as we go into the end of the year, into next year,” Roman said on “Squawk on the Street.”

The medical-grade masks are widely seen as the highest-quality option to protect against infection, and they have been in high demand throughout the health crisis. 3M began increasing its production of N95s in late 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 which will be in the United States, according to Roman.

Even so, shortages of personal protective equipment for health-care workers, including masks, have remained present during the pandemic. The issue is taking on renewed salience in the U.S. now as hospitalizations from Covid-19 are rising in 36 states.

Public health experts have stressed the importance of people wearing face coverings to slow transmission of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the general public should not wear N95s in order to reserve the supply for health-care workers and first responders. Instead, the agency recommends people wear cloth face coverings.

In March, as the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.S. was worsening, some retailers were criticized for having N95 masks on their shelves. Roman acknowledged there is “strong consumer demand” for the respirator masks due to their reputation of being highly effective.

But he said 3M continues to direct its new supply toward hospital workers and other medical professionals. The company also is working alongside the Department of Health and Human Services to “make sure we’re focused on the hot spots,” Roman said.

“That still is the priority,” he added. “We’ll continue to look for ways to support consumers, and our consumer teams are looking at innovative, new mask kinds of solutions in addition to the N95 respirators, so we’ll work to respond to that, as well.”

3M also has filed more than a dozen lawsuits in response to fraudulent N95 masks and price gouging during the health crisis. As of mid-October, about 3.5 million fake respirators have been seized by law enforcement, CNBC’s Seema Mody reported.

Shares of 3M were lower by 1.4% on Tuesday after the Dow component reported third-quarter earnings that eclipsed Wall Street expectations. The company saw strong sales for its personal safety and health equipment.

Roman said he believes the company has done an “incredible job” responding to the pandemic. “We said we’d add capacity both through our own investments and in partnership with the Department of Defense. We’ve now followed through on that, and we’ve added that capacity to be stepping into what we saw as a potential for a second wave of Covid cases,” he said.

“And we followed through on the commitment to bring over 200 million respirators in from production overseas into the U.S. because of the demand here, so we have found ways to react,” he added.

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