By Alex Leary and Austen Hufford 

President Trump said the government would buy nearly 167 million masks from 3M Co. over the next three months, resolving a spat with the industrial conglomerate over efforts to ramp up supply of gear for front-line workers confronting the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Trump criticized 3M's mask-making efforts last week and invoked the Defense Production Act against the company. That Korean War-era law gives the president power to compel manufacturers to make operational changes in the national interest. Health workers across the country are running short on masks as well as the gowns, ventilators and face shields they need to treat the sickest patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

An official said Monday that the Trump administration didn't plan to take any further action against 3M under the DPA in addition to the mask purchases.

"The 3M saga ends very happily," Mr. Trump said at a briefing on Monday evening. "We're very proud to be dealing now with 3M and its CEO, Mike Roman. I just spoke with him and I thanked him for getting it done."

Mr. Roman had pushed back against Mr. Trump's criticism last week, telling The Wall Street Journal that his company was doing everything possible to increase mask production.

"Given the reality that demand for respirators outpaces supply, we are working around the clock to further expand our capacity," Mr. Roman said in a statement on Monday.

3M said it would import the masks it sells to the federal government primarily from its factory in China. Earlier this year, as the virus spread in China, officials there restricted exports of medical goods. 3M said it was working with the Trump administration to restart imports to the U.S.

3M has doubled its production of masks in recent months to about 100 million N95 masks globally each month, including 35 million in the U.S. 3M said last week that it is raising production in the U.S. to a monthly rate of 40 million within weeks and that it would be making 50 million masks a month by June. 3M said it would continue to export a small percentage of its U.S.-made masks to Canada and Latin America.

Other manufacturers including Honeywell International Inc. are also raising mask output in the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services estimated in March that the U.S. would need about 300 million N95 masks a month to confront a pandemic.

HHS last month placed orders for 600 million N95 masks from 3M, Honeywell and three other companies to distribute to hospitals and augment the national medical-supply stockpile over the next 18 months.

The Trump administration's separate purchase on Monday for 166.5 million 3M face masks includes respirators that are approved under the typical N95 standard -- so called because those masks block 95% of very small particles -- as well as orders for products certified under a similar standard used in China known as KN95. The Trump administration official said the government will purchase 55.5 million masks from 3M in each of the next three months.

High-quality respirators are in high demand because they are designed to keep health-care workers safe. Surgical masks and even simpler cotton masks, intended to prevent the spread of disease from wearers, are also in increasingly high demand in the U.S. as officials have advised most people to wear some covering when they go out in public.

Mr. Trump, who was initially reluctant to invoke the DPA, has also invoked it to compel companies to work faster to make ventilators. General Motors Co. and General Electric Co. are among companies working to produce more ventilators in the U.S.

Write to Alex Leary at alex.leary@wsj.com and Austen Hufford at austen.hufford@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 06, 2020 20:20 ET (00:20 GMT)

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