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U.S. to Ramp Up Mask Production, But China Is Bottleneck for Raw Materials

A large monitor displays the Johns Hopkins CSSE Coronvirus COVID-19 map in HHS' Operations Center

Vice President Mike Pence told Fox News on Feb. 29 the government had contracted 3M Co to produce an extra 35 million respiratory masks a month. He urged Americans not to buy the masks, which he said were only needed by healthcare workers. Honeywell International Inc is the other major U.S. mask producer.1

He also told Fox News that clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine would start in six weeks but that a vaccine will likely not be available this season.1

Jennifer Ehrlich, a 3M communications manager said in an e-mail late Saturday that any information about government contracts for respirators would have to come from the Office of the Vice President.

However, Ehrlich added, “Just to clarify, we are not yet under contract for the volume mentioned today. However, we are preparing to respond to the U.S. administration’s request for a proposal for respirators. 3M continues to maximize production at its manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and around the world for all types of N95 respirators.”2

The Trump Administration is reportedly considering invoking special powers through a law called the Defense Production Act, a law passed by congress in 1950 at the outset of the Korean War, to rapidly expand domestic manufacturing of protective masks and clothing to combat the coronavirus in the United States, two U.S. officials told Reuters.3

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar told lawmakers this week that the United States needs a stockpile of about 300 million N95 face masks — respiratory protective devices — for medical workers to combat the spread of the virus. The United States currently has only a fraction of that number available for immediate use, Azar testified.3

Azar said at a congressional hearing on Wednesday that China controls “a lot of the raw materials as well as the manufacturing capacity” related to face masks.

“Very little of this stuff is apparently made in the (United) States, so if we’re down to domestic capability to produce, it could get tough,” the DHS official told Reuters.3

1. Coronavirus Spurs U.S. to Ramp Up Mask Production, Screen Travelers After First Death Reuters

2. 3M Can’t Confirm Pence Comments About Making More Masks Star Tribune

3. US Mulls Using Sweeping Powers to Ramp Up Production Of Coronavirus Protective Gear CNBC

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