Many medical supplies and equipment, like face shields, surgical masks, and KN95 masks, have been difficult to find for sale in both physical and online stores. One item in particular has been scarce: the N95 respirator, and large healthcare facilities are needing to buy them in bulk and wholesale for the protection of their workers during the pandemic. This has led to state authorities uncovering many scams and counterfeit N95 masks. Let’s talk about the latest case of counterfeit N95 masks being seized in Minnesota.
3M worked with the state of Minnesota to remove 500,000 counterfeit N95 masks from circulation claiming to be 3M N95 masks
To prevent 500,000 counterfeit N95 respirators claiming to be 3M N95 masks from being shipped and distributed to the healthcare facilities in the stat, the company and the state of Minnesota worked together. The Department of Administration said that the respirators, which are valued at $2.1 million, would be destroyed by 3M.
The 3M-branded N95 masks were in the 3M 1860 model, and were ordered by the State Emergency Operations Center's Critical Care Supplies Work Group as an emergency supply for hospitals and clinics in case they couldn’t procure their own PPE (personal protective equipment).
The order was placed to a vendor called Supply Link, Inc., and the state made a contract with. Luckily, no public funds were expended for the fake order, since the state usually pays for items after they’ve been received.
Administration Commissioner Alice Roberts-Davis said about the incident that protecting the health and safety of healthcare workers on the frontlines was their top priority, and that part ensuring authenticity and effectiveness before PPE is delivered to healthcare facilities is part of sourcing scarce items in an intensively competitive environment. She added that, an instrumental part of their goal to provide reliable products has been their partnership with 3M and other Minnesota leading businesses.
3M has been working with not only Minnesota, but other states around the country as well, as cases of fraud and counterfeiting increase across the United States. They help with verifying the authenticity of the order claiming to be 3M N95 masks. More than 7 million counterfeit respirators have been seized by 3M so far.
Roberts-Davis said about the fake masks that she assumes the quality of the masks wasn’t what they expected, and that she doesn’t know if they would have fit properly or had the correct filtration rate. Ultimately, she says, they can assure that these masks were not N95 masks, and healthcare workers wouldn’t have been as protected as they thought they would have.
After inspecting the respirators, 3M determined they weren’t authentic, and requested the vendor to surrender the masks to remove them from circulation in a cease-and-desist letter. In response the vendor, Supply Link, Inc. cooperated with the request.
3M Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Denis Rutherford, said about the incident that “3M is proud to have worked with the State of Minnesota to prevent the purchase and distribution of these counterfeit respirators. 3M is making more N95s than ever before and we will continue to take action against those exploiting the demand for these critical products.”
Robert-Davis finished saying that, as these masks have had to go through a long supply chain, investigations have to be done in order to show where the chain broke down.
N95 masks: why are they so targeted?
N95 masks are also known as N95 respirators, and they’re a very specific type of disposable face mask that has gained recognition during this year as a result from the pandemic. They’re considered the best face mask to protect someone from the coronavirus, and since healthcare workers are largely exposed to the virus, they need their antiviral properties to get the adequate amount of protection to work safely.
The name of these masks indicate that the mask doesn’t have any resistance to oil (the ‘N’) and that it offers a filtration rate of 95% against airborne particles. This is established by the National Institute for Occupational Safety (NIOSH), which is an organization that regulates respirators in the USA, among other responsibilities.
These characteristics make these masks suitable for many different uses in several work settings, as they can filter out non-oil based airborne particles, like dust and smoke. Particles with these features also include viruses, like the flu or the novel coronavirus, which is why they have been particularly important in the healthcare field during the last 10 months.
As we mentioned, NIOSH is a federal agency that regulates respirators. After a manufacturer makes a mask with the intention to be marketed as N95, the masks must be sent to the agency for them to evaluate and test out. If they meet their criteria for N95 respirators, they get the approval, which is necessary for selling masks as N95 ones. If the mask is going to be sold and used as medical equipment, it needs to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well, since they regulate all medical supplies and equipment.
3M is one of the most reputable and important brands when it comes to PPE in any work field. They produce high-quality N95 masks, and they are one of the most popular brands for this item. This is why they’ve been particularly targeted by scams during the pandemic, with some of the most used models being the 3M 8210 and the 3M 8511, as well as the 3M 1860.
For protection in the general public against the coronavirus, reusable cloth masks are the recommended option, even for kids (as long as they’re above the age of 2 years old). Medical-grade masks and respirators are critical items needed by frontline workers.