As the ongoing global coronavirus outbreak has resulted in surging demand for personal protective products and sanitizers, manufacturers and distributors of such products have been stressed to match consumers’ needs.
The top in-demand product is respirator masks, and N95-rated masks in particular, as it is among the only products rated to effectively prevent the person-to-person spreading of the COVID 19 virus.
Reuters reported Thursday that manufacturing conglomerate 3M has mitigated major supply chain disruptions amid the virus outbreak by sourcing materials for its face masks from regional suppliers instead of relying on distant providers.
The news outlet cited 3M global lead for health and safety, Nikki McCullough, saying that 3M produces all the components of the filters in its N95 masks in-house, but is sourcing from regional suppliers for other materials that include the straps and metal nose clips.
“Since we have this regional manufacturing model, many of our items are coming regionally.,” McCullough told Reuters. “And we’re working with our supply partners very closely to monitor the situation. “If we start to see disruptions, we’ll certainly work to alert our customers. At this point in time, we are able to manufacture and we are continuing at capacity for respirators.”
Reuters said that 3M has ramped up testing and production of its single-use N95 masks, which are designed to filter 95 percent of airborne particles, in addition to other respiratory protective gear.
As of Friday morning, the coronavirus has surpassed 100,000 confirmed cases worldwide, according to John Hopkins University, while the global death toll is more than 3,400. Fourteen people have died from the virus in the US, where more than 230 cases have been confirmed nationwide.
On Friday, president Donald Trump signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill aimed to boost virus-prevention efforts in the US.
Vice President Mike Pence met with 3M CEO Mike Roman and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz Thursday at the company’s St. Paul headquarters. Reuters noted that Pence — appointed to lead the US’ coronavirus response team — said March 1 that the US government is seeking 35 million additional masks per month from 3M. A company spokesperson told Reuters that 3M is currently not contracted to produce the masks, but is preparing to respond to the government’s request.
At an industry conference in February, Roman told investors, “The demand is outstripping capacity right now, and we’re working 24/7 to ramp up and be able to meet as much of that demand as we can.”
Reuters noted that the US Department of Health and Human Services plans to buy 500 million N95 respirators over the next 18 months.
On March 2, the US Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved more respirators, including certain N95s, for use by health care personnel. The action allows certain National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)-approved respirators not currently regulated by the FDA to be used in a health care setting by health care personnel during the coronavirus outbreak.