In an effort to speed up the distribution of desperately needed hospital masks, President Donald Trump issued an order Thursday mandating that 3M sell the Federal Emergency Management Agency as many N95 respirator masks as the agency says it needs.
The order to help meet FEMA’s needs comes under the Defense Production Act, which the president invoked a week ago.
3M did not respond Thursday to several calls for comment.
CEO Mike Roman said Tuesday that the company was working closely with FEMA and is on track to double global production of N95 masks to 2 billion a year in 12 months.
The Maplewood-based multinational company will boost its U.S. production by 40% to 50 million masks per month in about 60 days, he said.
Roman said 80% of 3M’s U.S. supply is being funneled directly into health care facilities, especially to the hardest-hit areas such as New York and Seattle, with the help of six large distributors.
The remaining 20% were being sent to fulfill federal government needs, with the most going to FEMA.
“The prioritization and distribution of all of our N95 respirators are being coordinated in close partnership with FEMA, and we are directly embedded with them at their headquarters to help streamline decisionmaking and action,” Roman said.
Trump’s order on Thursday comes a month after Vice President Mike Pence, in charge of the federal response to the pandemic, visited 3M headquarters and praised the company for “playing a vital role in the health of our nation.”
It is unclear what role Trump’s new order could play in pushing more inventory to FEMA.
Besides ramping up N95 respiratory manufacturing, 3M also has announced a partnership with Ford to produce thousands of additional air-powered respirators called PAPRs.
These masks differ from N95 masks but also are seen as a critical tool in combating the spread of COVID-19 to health care workers.
Demand for the respirators has continued to climb as shortages emerged around the world.
N95 masks cited in Trump’s order are approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and are considered the gold standard among medical professionals because they filter out at least 95% of micro particulates and give doctors and nurses the best chance of not breathing in the coronavirus.
Trump also said on Thursday that he had given the secretaries of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security power to secure supplies for other vital health care equipment and devices.
Trump noted support for Medtronic, General Electric, Hill-Rom, ResMed, Royal Philips and Vyaire Medical to build ventilators that are also critically needed.
“I am grateful to these and other domestic manufacturers for ramping up their production of ventilators during this difficult time,” Trump said. “Today’s order will save lives by removing obstacles in the supply chain that threaten the rapid production of ventilators.”
In issuing the orders, Trump said his actions were critical to “ensure that our health care systems are able to surge capacity and capability to respond to the spread of COVID-19.”
He said it “is critical that all health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19 are properly distributed to the nation’s health care systems and others that need them most at this time.”