US. Health Workers and Hospitals Grapple With Millions of Counterfeit N95 Masks

Michael Rose, a section chief in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s global trade division, has been investigating a wide variety of covid-related scams over the past year. Of all those cases, he says, the flood of fake 3M masks from China has been the most consistent. (PHOTO COURTESY OF U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION)


This story also ran on NBC News. It can be republished for free.

Thousands of counterfeit 3M respirators have slipped past U.S. investigators in recent months, making it to the cheeks and chins of health care workers and perplexing experts who say their quality is not vastly inferior to the real thing.

N95 masks are prized for their ability to filter out 95% of the minuscule particles that cause covid-19. Yet the fakes pouring into the country have fooled health care leaders from coast to coast. As many as 1.9 million counterfeit 3M masks made their way to about 40 hospitals in Washington state, according to the state hospital association, spurring officials to alert staff members and pull them off the shelf. The elite Cleveland Clinic recently conceded that, since November, it had inadvertently distributed 3M counterfeits to hospital staffers. A Minnesota hospital made a similar admission.

Nurses at Jersey Shore University Medical Center have been highly suspicious since November that the misshapen and odd-smelling “3M” masks they were given are knockoffs, their concerns fueled by mask lot numbers matching those the company listed online as possible fakes.

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COVID: why are Swedish towns banning masks?

Tine Walravens, Copenhagen Business School and Paul O’Shea, Lund University

Officials in Halmstad municipality, Sweden, recently forced a teacher to remove their mask and prohibited the use of masks and all forms of PPE in schools. The municipality said there was no scientific evidence for wearing masks, citing the Swedish public health agency. At the time, agency guidance stated that there were “great risks” that masks would be used incorrectly. This guidance has since been removed.

To someone unfamiliar with the Swedish response to COVID-19, this mask ban might sound shocking. After all, while masks are not foolproof, there is evidence that indicates that they do help reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially in situations where maintaining distance is impossible – such as schools.

The municipality eventually backed down. But new examples of mask bans keep popping up in Sweden. Librarians in the affluent town of Kungsbacka, for example, have been instructed not to wear masks.

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