3M Chairman and CEO Mike Roman told CNBC on Monday he was not happy to find out that N95 respirator masks, which health-care workers need to protect themselves from the coronavirus, were available at some retail stores.
“It’s disappointing when you see that because we’re trying to redirect everything to health-care workers,” Roman said on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.“
Roman’s comments came one day after 3M said it is sending to New York and Seattle a half-million N95 respirator masks in response to the ongoing shortage of health-care equipment.
Around 350,000 should arrive in New York alone on Monday, Roman said.
Reports surfaced in recent days of a Target in Seattle, an area hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak, having shelves full of the N95 masks. Target has apologized and said it is reviewing its inventory for additional masks.
The N95 respirator masks that have ended up in retail locations in recent days is likely due to existing inventory, Roman said.
“There was some inventory, as you would expect, throughout the supply chain from what was happening even as we came into 2020,” Roman said. “About 90% of our respirators go to industrial customers, sometimes through retail channels, in a normal business environment.”
The company has now shifted more than 90% of its masks to health-care workers, while the rest goes to “other industries also critical in this pandemic” such as food, energy and pharmaceuticals companies, Roman said in a statement Sunday.
3M has been producing nearly 100 million N95 masks per month since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, the statement said. More than 35 million per month are being produced in the U.S., where more than 35,000 people have been infected.
Roman said 3M’s ability to shift the bulk of its mask toward health care workers came in early March after a regulatory change from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The move, announced on March 2, allowed respirator masks the FDA had not regulated to be used by health-care workers. That included certain N95 masks, according to the FDA’s statement.
“All of that allowed us to shift what our normally industrial respirators, the N95, over to health care workers. It gave us the certification that we needed to be able to do that,” Roman said.
Roman said other companies in areas such as logistics are working with 3M to help it continue to expand its capacity.
“We’re ready to expedite respirators to wherever they’re needed,” he said.
At the end of January, when the coronavirus was starting to dominate the headlines, Roman told CNBC that 3M was “ramping to full production.” He added at the time, We’re going 24/7.”