Demand for respirator masks, including the N95 mask, spiked out worldwide following the spread of the novel coronavirus.However, healthcare workers and hospitals on the frontines are facing an ongoing shortage of protective equipment, including such masks. As The New York Times explained, the shortage is partly due to the fact that citizens are extensively buying masks out of fear, even though experts advise otherwise. Fox News reported that the shortage can also be tied to a sudden drop in imports of protective gears, mostly from China. In a recent interview for CNBC, Mike Roman, CEO of 3M, the largest producer of respirator masks, urged that every mask that is available should now be going to healthcare workers, and should not be sold in stores to consumers.
In fact, recent reports have showed that retailers such as Target still have shelves full of N95 masks.
Tall stacks of N95 masks @Target in Seattle, despite a shortage at hospitals. #CoronavirusPandemic pic.twitter.com/YJy0wsJjjy— Ann Dornfeld (@anndornfeld) March 21, 2020
"It’s disappointing when you see that because we’re trying to redirect everything to health-care workers," Roman said.
However, Target apologized in a statement, saying that they sold 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.
Target also said it will review its inventory and donate the masks to healthcare workers.
Roman added that the N95 masks in retail locations are likely due to inventory. "There was some inventory, as you would expect, throughout the supply chain from what was happening even as we came into 2020," he said. "About 90% of our respirators go to industrial customers, sometimes through retail channels, in a normal business environment," he added.In a statement released last Sunday, Roman also assured that, from now on, more than 90% of the production will be distributed to healthcare workers. He also said that the company has accelerated investments to expand, even double, their capacity, to produce up to 2 billion respirators, within the next year.
"Since the initial COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve ramped up to maximum production levels of N95 respirators and doubled our global output to a rate of more than 1.1 billion per year, or 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," he said."Like everyone, I see the pleas from our heroic doctors, nurses and first responders for the respirators and other equipment they desperately need. 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 added.