Fiat Chrysler Automobiles said Monday it will start manufacturing face masks in the coming weeks and donate the critical medical equipment to first responders and healthcare workers — the latest automaker to direct its manufacturing expertise toward the COVID-19 pandemic.
The automaker confirmed to TechCrunch that production capacity is being installed this week at one of its factories in China. Manufacturing will start in the coming weeks and distribution will be focused on the U.S., Canada and Mexico. FCA said it plans to produce 1 million face masks a month. All masks will be donated to police, EMTs and firefighters and workers in hospitals and healthcare clinics.
“Protecting our first responders and healthcare workers has never been more important," FCA CEO Mike Manley said in a statement. "In addition to the support we are giving to increase the production of ventilators, we canvassed our contacts across the healthcare industry and it was very clear that there is an urgent and critical need for face masks. We’ve marshalled 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.”
The FCA announcement follows a plea last week from Vice President Mike Pence for construction companies to donate their stocks of N95 respirator masks to hospitals. Construction companies have responded, Pence said in a subsequent press conference. Other companies have started donating their caches of face masks as well, including Apple, Facebook, IBM and Tesla.
COVID-19, a disease caused by coronavirus, has led to a shortage of protective equipment such as N95 respirator masks, gloves and gowns.
Vice President Pence asked construction companies to donate to their local hospitals their stocks of N95 respirator masks and stop ordering more for the time being. This call comes in the middle of a major shortage of these kinds of masks, which get their name from being able to block at least 95% of 0.3 micron particles.
Other manufacturers such as GM, Ford, VW and Tesla have started to work on the complex task of producing ventilators, another critical piece of medical equipment for patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The disease attacks the lungs and can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia. And since there is no clinically proven treatment yet, ventilators are relied upon to help people breathe and fight the disease. There are about 160,000 ventilators in the United States and another 12,700 in the National Strategic Supply, the NYT reported.
GM said Friday that it is working with Ventec Life Systems to help increase production of respiratory care products such as ventilators. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said last week that he had a discussion with Medtronic about ventilators. Medtronic later confirmed those talks in a tweet. Musk had previously tweeted that SpaceX and Tesla will work on ventilators, without providing specifics.