Several automakers are stepping in to address a critical shortage of medical masks and respirators caused by the fast-expanding coronavirus pandemic.
- Ford and Tesla have already sent thousands of masks to hospitals in Michigan and California.
- Ford is working with 3M to increase production of more sophisticated respirators.
- Fiat Chrysler plans a rapid ramp-up of mask production at its own facilities.
The surge in critical cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is putting a major strain on hospitals and other health care providers. Not only is high-tech medical gear like ventilators in short supply but even basics like masks and more sophisticated respirators. Several carmakers now have stepped in to assist the health care community, either by finding new sources for these supplies or by producing them at idled automotive factories.
Masks are a first line of defense for medical teams, but shortages have led some to resort to using bandanas and scarves. (Photo: Getty Images)
Masks are in particularly short supply, the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, advising doctors and other health care providers that “in settings where face masks are not available, (they) might use homemade masks,” such as bandanas and scarves. But it also warned that these makeshift replacements won’t provide the same level of protection as traditional gear.
At least three automakers have confirmed they will step in. Tesla this week announced it would divert masks normally used at its plants to use by California’s medical community. It delivered about 50,000 M95 masks — the grade needed to shield responders from the microscopic coronavirus — along with thousands more PAPR helmets that prevent contamination through the eyes, as well as the nose and mouth.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, meanwhile, is focusing its efforts on making face masks — production scheduled to begin this week and quickly ramp up to 1 million a month, according to CEO Mike Manley. Along with hospitals and other medical centers, these will be donated to police, firefighters and EMS crews.
FCA will “marshal (its) resources” to help meet the urgent demand for face masks, said CEO Mike Manley. (Photo: Paul A. Eisenstein/TheDetroitBureau.com.)
“Protecting our first responders and health care workers has never been more important,” said Manley in a statement. “We’ve marshaled the resources of the FCA Group to focus immediately on installing production capacity for making masks and supporting those most in need on the front line of this pandemic.”
Ford Motor Co., for its part, already delivered a small batch of masks to Detroit-area health providers. And it is working with 3M to increase that Minnesota-based company’s production of respirators. Similar to familiar hospital masks, respirators provide an added level of protection in hospitals and other environments where contagions like the coronavirus may be swirling in the air.
If needed, Ford spokesman Mike Levine told Ride that Ford is ready to add respirator production at one of its own facilities, such as its advanced manufacturing center in Redford, Michigan.
WHY THIS MATTERS
The U.S. now has the world’s largest outbreak of the coronavirus. And, as has happened elsewhere, doctors and other health care providers are themselves vulnerable to COVID-19, the disease the virus causes. That’s all the more a problem due to a shortage of basic supplies, like masks and respirators. Using their manufacturing expertise and access to materials, automakers are stepping in to provide additional supplies.