Every respirator mask that’s available right now should be going to a healthcare worker on the front lines, caring for coronavirus-infected patients. They should not be sold in stores to consumers, said 3M CEO Mike Roman in a CNBC interview Monday.
3M is the largest maker of medical face masks, specifically the N95 respirator mask.
Roman also said 3M is working with federal and state authorities to curb counterfeiting and price gouging of its products and devices, including the masks.
“We are in the process of working with large e-marketplace operators on a coordinated strategy and action plan to identify and remove counterfeiters and price gougers and to refer them to the appropriate law enforcement authorities,” Roman wrote in a letter Tuesday to Attorney General William Barr.
Hospitals nationwide are facing an acute shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) such as N95 masks, gloves and surgical gowns amid the coronavirus pandemic. In the United States, more than 38,000 Americans have been infected across all 50 states, and at least 414 people have died.
In light of this desperate need, Roman said 3M’s N95 masks should not be showing up in stores, he told CNBC.
Roman said he was “disappointed” that the masks were selling in some stores over the weekend, alluding to Target.
Target (TGT) said a select number of stores in the Seattle area were selling the N95 masks “in error.”
“We apologize for our error. We worked quickly to remove these masks from our stores and donated them to the Washington State Department of Health for distribution to local hospitals,” a Target spokesperson told CNN Business.
The retailer said it has thoroughly reviewed its full inventory for any additional masks and will donate them the medical community.
Calls out counterfeiting and price gouging
Roman said 3M will not increase prices for respirators despite the surging demand.
In the letter to Barr, he said individuals and organizations that are engaging in profiteering from its products amid the coronavirus pandemic are engaging in “unethical actions” and that 3M would work with authorities to hold them accountable.
Pressure is mounting on medical equipment makers to quickly boost production to meet the rapidly rising new cases of coronavirus infections.
Roman said 3M has ramped up production of N95 respirators and doubled its global output to nearly 100 million per month.
“In the United States we are producing 35 million respirators per month. Of these, more than 90% are now designated for healthcare workers, with the remaining deployed to other industries also critical in this pandemic, including energy, food and pharmaceutical companies,” Roman said in a Linkedin post on Sunday.
He said more than 500,000 respirators are being sent this week to some of the more critically impacted areas, such as New York and Seattle. About half of the total coronavirus cases in the United States are in New York State.
“I want people to know we are doing all we can to meet the demands of this extraordinary time and get supplies from our plants to where they’re most needed as quickly as possible,” he said.