With hospitals across the country in desperate need of protective gear to prevent healthcare workers from contracting the novel coronavirus, industry heavyweight 3M has doubled its global production of N95 respirators to more than 1.1 billion per year.
The Minnesota-based company is currently manufacturing over 400 million N95 respirators in the U.S. annually.
“This pandemic is affecting us all, and we are doing all we can to support public health and especially our first-responders and those impacted by this global health crisis,” said Mike Roman, 3M chairman and CEO, in a statement. “We are mobilizing all available resources and rapidly increasing output of critical supplies healthcare workers in the United States and around the world need to help protect their lives as they treat others.”
In recent weeks, consumer demand for protective products have seen a significant spike. Amazon searches for “N95” have risen over 6,000%, while “N95 mask kids” are up more than 2,000%, according to data from Amazon seller platform Jungle Scout. All this activity has led to price gouging and counterfeits appearing on the market.
3M said it’s aware of the problem and condemns any unethical actors trying to exploit the pandemic. The company also stated that while it has not altered the price of 3M respirators due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it cannot control what retailers charge.
Despite the popularity of N95 respirators, which block at least 95% of airborne particles, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that members of the general public wear them to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus. Instead, the agency encourages people to avoid exposure to the virus.
While N95 respirators are examined and approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, surgical masks, which are loose-fitting and not meant to filter airborne particles, are not.
In addition to the U.S., 3M also manufactures respirators in Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Last year, the company reported $32.1 billion in annual sales.