3M has continued to ramp up production of its N95 respirators, Chairman and CEO Mike Roman told CNBC on Tuesday as the coronavirus pandemic deepens again in parts of the world.
"We're bringing capacity to market. We're making more N95 respirators than ever and will add more capacity by the end of the year and next year," Roman said in Squawk on the Street.
The medical masks are widely considered to be the highest quality option to protect against infection and have been in great demand throughout the health crisis. 3M began ramping up N95 production in late January, just weeks after the novel coronavirus surfaced in China late last year. The industrial giant is now well on its way to producing 2 billion N95 masks this year, around half of which will be in the US, according to Roman.
Even so, the shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, including masks, persists during the pandemic. The problem is now back on the rise in the U.S. as Covid-19 hospital admissions spike in 36 states.
Public health experts have emphasized the importance of people wearing face covers to help slow the transmission of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the general public should not wear an N95 to reserve supplies for healthcare workers and first responders. Instead, the agency recommends wearing fabric face coverings.
In March, as the Covid-19 outbreak in the US worsened, some retailers were criticized for having N95 masks on their shelves. Roman acknowledged that there is "strong consumer demand" for respirators as they have a reputation for being highly effective.
But he said 3M continues to target its new offering to hospital workers and other health professionals. The company is also working with the Department of Health and Human Services to "make sure we focus on the hot spots," Roman said.
"That is still the priority," he added. "We will continue to look for ways to support consumers and our consumer teams are looking for innovative new mask solutions in addition to the N95 respirators. So we will work to respond to that as well."
3M has also filed more than a dozen lawsuits over fraudulent N95 masks and price cuts during the health crisis. About 3.5 million counterfeit breathing apparatuses had been seized by law enforcement agencies by mid-October, CNBC's Seema Mody reported.
3M shares fell 1.4% on Tuesday after the Dow component posted a gain in the third quarter that exceeded Wall Street expectations. The company had strong sales of its personal safety and health equipment.
Roman said he believes the company did an "incredible job" responding to the pandemic. "We said we would increase capacity both through our own investments and in partnership with the Department of Defense. We have now taken this further and added that capacity to get into what we saw as potential for a Department of Defense." second wave of Covid cases, "he said.
"And we are committed to bringing more than 200 million respirators from overseas manufacturing to the US in response to the demand here. So we have found ways to respond," he added.