Millions of potentially fake N95 masks pulled from hospital shelves

Hospitals across the state are scrambling to pull millions of fake N95 masks off their shelves in the midst of a pandemic.

The move came after receiving an alert from the masks’ manufacturer, 3M, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

More than 40 hospitals in this state got some of the fake masks.

Those who have seen them say the fakes are so good, only 3M can actually tell the difference. That is really bad news for hospitals which rely on these masks to keep their medical staff safe.

But how much do the fake masks protect the wearer as compared to a genuine one? The Washington State Hospital Association said it’s too early to answer that question.

The state hospital association said the 3M masks are especially popular for women because they offer a small size, and it has been challenging to find ones that fit people with small faces. And because the mask needs to create a seal, the fit is very important. The 3M masks also have a moisture barrier, which is crucial when treating people with COVID-19 who are coughing and sneezing.

The fake masks were delivered to those on the front lines of a pandemic, part of personal protective equipment that has come to symbolize the fight against the deadly coronavirus.

“I’m so mad, I’m so mad,” said Cassie Sauer, CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association.

She said the association received the alert Friday.

“That fraudulent 3M N95 masks had been discovered mixed in the supply chain across the U.S.,” said Sauer.

Indeed the WSHA had bought thousands of masks itself. So they sent photographs and lot numbers to 3M. The company confirmed they, too, had purchased some of the fake N95 masks.

“I’ve seen the boxes of the real ones and the fake ones and they’re identical,” Sauer said. “They’re really good fakes.”

She says the distributor appears to be where the fakes originated.

In a statement, Harborview Medical Center says it received three of the suspicious lots. They were marked 3M but purchased from a third-party vendor. Some 20,000 masks were used by its staff on Christmas Day.

And they are not alone.

Sauer estimated they were among about 2 million N95 masks delivered and distributed to about 40% of the state’s hospitals. Millions of dollars have been lost too.

“It is so shockingly terrible for someone to manufacture fake PPE,” Sauer said.

Not all of the masks have been used. Thousands are still in the boxes.

So far it doesn’t look like any workers picked up a virus while wearing them. But that is still being investigated, too.

They are meeting with 3M and Homeland Security this week, hoping to get more information about who would do this.

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