(Reuters) – 3M Co expects to ramp up U.S. monthly production of N95 respirator masks to 50 million in June, the industrial giant said on Tuesday, as demand surges from healthcare professionals and first responders battling the coronavirus pandemic.
The company is also looking to produce 2 billion N95 respirators globally within the next year, again doubling capacity to produce the masks designed to filter 95% of airborne particles.
With medical facilities running low on ventilators and protective masks and hampered by limited diagnostic testing capacity, the outbreak has led to the deaths of over 2,800 Americans and infected over 160,000 as of Tuesday, surpassing the case counts of China and Italy.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said that over the next 18 months it aims to buy 500 million masks for the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s supply of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies.
3M said it was working with several sterilization companies to find a way for hospitals to safely clean, reuse and extend the life of the respirators.
The company also plans to boost production of its air-purifying respirators by six-fold within the next 60 to 90 days through its partnership with Ford Motor Co.
U.S. companies are rushing to manufacture ventilators and masks as the outbreak spreads.
Ford has said it will produce 50,000 ventilators over the next 100 days at a plant in Michigan in cooperation with General Electric’s healthcare unit, while larger rival GM plans to produce up to 10,000 ventilators a month by this summer at a plant in Kokomo, Indiana.
Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila