KEY POINTS

  • N95 masks have built in respirators and are used by medical professionals and in other industries like construction
  • The masks filter contaminants like dust, mists, fumes and large droplets
  • The presidential order cited only proper distribution of the masks as a reason behind the action

Update: 4 p.m. EDT

3M issued a statement Friday hitting back at President Trump's action, saying it had been working close with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"The administration also requested that 3M cease exporting respirators that we currently manufacture in the United States to the Canadian and Latin American markets," 3M said. "There are, however, significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators.

"In addition, ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease. That is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek."

Update: 12:10 p.m. EDT

German media reported Friday the U.S. diverted a shipment of hundreds of thousands of masks from 3M destined for Berlin back to the U.S. as they were being transferred from a plane in Thailand.

German Interior Minister Andreas Geisel called the diversion "an act of modern piracy."

Original story

President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act against 3M, ordering the company to produce N95 face masks to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. The company said, however, it already has doubled mask production and won’t be able to meet demand for months.

N95 masks, used medical personnel and some other workers, have been in short supply since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. The masks have built-in respirators that better filter air to eliminate contaminants like dust, mists, fumes and large droplets. Surgical masks do not have respirators but provide protection against droplets and large respiratory particles.

Trump tweeted late Thursday the “P Act” had been invoked and warned 3M it “will have a big price to pay!”

The tweet and the presidential memorandum did not explain what the company was doing to necessitate Trump’s action, but White House adviser Peter Navarro said the government is trying to make sure the company’s products are going “to the right places.”

The presidential order said he invoked the DPA to make sure “all health and medical resources needed to respond to the spread of COVID-19 are properly distributed to the nation’s healthcare systems and others that need them most at this time.”

3M (MMM) Chief Executive Mike Roman told MarketWatch the company simply cannot meet demand despite doubling production since January.

“The demand we have exceeds our production capacity,” Roman said. The company’s factories in South Dakota and Nebraska were running 24 hours a day.

The Washington Post reported the company had concerns about liability during the crisis, which weren’t allayed until Congress passed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act last week, which included a liability waiver. The Post said the company is now on track to distribute 31 million masks to healthcare workers this month, up from 5 million.

The federal government has contracted for 600 million N95 masks for the next 18 months to augment the private sector’s supply.

As of midmorning, the United States had reported more than 245,600 confirmed coronavirus infections, nearly a quarter of the world’s, with more than 6,000 deaths. Globally, more than 54,000 have died from the disease.

N95Masks A Brooklyn man was arrested for selling medical supplies at inflated prices. Photo: Creative Commons