Millions of counterfeit N95 masks distributed to health care workers in the U.S.

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fairly difficult
N95 masks for Covid-19: Thousands of counterfeit 3M respirators have slipped past U.S. investigators in recent months.
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 they're not vastly inferior to the real thing.

N95 masks are prized for their ability to filter out 95 percent of the minuscule particles that can carry the coronavirus. 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 the masks off the shelf. The elite Cleveland Clinic recently acknowledged 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 in Neptune, New Jersey, have been highly suspicious since November that the misshapen and odd-smelling "3M" masks they were given are knockoffs, their concerns fueled because mask lot numbers match those the company listed online as possible fakes.

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"People have been terrified for the last 2½ months," said Daniel Hayes, a nurse and union vice president at the hospital. "They felt like they were taking their lives in their hands, and they don't have anything else to wear."

According to 3M, the leading U.S. producer of N95s, more than 10 million counterfeits have been seized since the pandemic began, and the company has fielded 10,500 queries about the authenticity of N95s. The company said in a Jan. 20 letter that its work in recent months led to the seizure of fake 3M masks "sold or offered to government agencies" in at least six states. After Kaiser Health News sent photos of the masks the New Jersey nurses had questioned, a 3M spokesperson referred to them as "the counterfeits you identified."

Testing the fakes

At KHN's…
Christina Jewett, Kaiser Health News, Eli Cahan
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