Counterfeit Masks Are Reaching Frontline Workers

We are all battling the COVID-19 pandemic in our own ways from the comfort of our homes. The healthcare professionals, however, need to be at the frontline, treating COVID-19 patients. They require a lot of masks and personal protective equipment in order to remain safe. At a time when their needs are a priority, Counterfeit masks are reaching frontline workers in the US. These masks don’t provide sufficient protection. If our healthcare professionals start falling sick with COVID-19, who will treat the patients that are rising in numbers. Read on to find out more about this issue and how it impacts us.

Scarce Medical Supplies

Frontline workers need multiple pairs of masks and PPEs per day. They attain exposure to the contagion by virtue of treating COVID-19 patients. Hence their equipment is discarded after use. They are at a high risk of contracting the virus themselves. The supply chain of masks has not been able to keep up with the huge demand. Masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) have hence become scarce. Masks and PPE are the ammo that the medical staff needs to fight COVID-19. The lack of this equipment can have a drastic impact on the fight against the pandemic.

There have already been cases where medical professionals without proper equipment have caught to the virus. A tragic incident was reported where a doctor messaged his friend that he felt unsafe without PPE and N95 mask. This doctor later succumbed to the virus. This highlights the plight of frontline workers in the US.

An Emergency Shipment of Counterfeit masks

An emergency consignment of N95 masks arrived late in March at the Los Angeles airport. This was the first consignment to arrive in the US in almost 6 weeks. The N95 masks in the consignment were Counterfeit masks. Not just masks a lot of the PPE being used in hospitals is counterfeit. This poses a severe health hazard and puts the lives of medical professionals at risk. Federal trade law enforcement agencies were earlier focused on busting fake luxury goods now they focus on busting fake medical supplies. In regards to this, Operation Stolen Promise has been launched by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security. They have made 11 arrests and 519 seizures to date. Still, counterfeits continue to pour into the country.

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Not just counterfeit masks, but mislabelled medicines, fake COVID-19 tests kits, and fake PPEs are also pouring in. HSI’s assistant director for global trade investigations, Steve Francis has condemned this. He has said that these are bad times for people where everyone should stand together in solidarity. Instead, some people are hell-bent on exploiting others. Medical professionals are risking their lives to do the right thing and help sick patients but they are getting exploited.  Counterfeits have infiltrated the United States’ healthcare system and plunged it into chaos. This shows a lack of coordination among the authorities. Massive shortages of masks and PPEs have made it easier for counterfeits to infiltrate the market.

How to identify counterfeits

Counterfeits look nearly identical to the original product and this makes them difficult to identify. However, there are certain things that you can look out for. Fake N95 masks have ear loops. The original N95 masks have adjustable bands that stretch across the back of your head. These bands make for a tighter fit and ensure that all the air that you breathe comes through the mask.

The Problem in identifying Counterfeits

All the blue and yellow boxes containing N95 masks bear the name of Shanghai Dasheng. This is the name of the Chinese factory that produces N95 masks. All the masks inside are stamped as if approved by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. This makes it appear like these masks haven been certified as safe to use by healthcare workers by the US government. N95 masks are meant to filter out 95% of all particles in the air. Surgical masks that fit loosely cannot block tiny particles that the N95 can.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has categorically stated that N95 masks with ear loops are fake. Even if the Shanghai Dasheng name is there, they are still to be considered fake. This statement was issued just one day before these masks arrived in Los Angeles.

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The Problem with Earloops

Earloops are much cheaper to manufacture since the straps can just attach with the face cover using glue. In the case of genuine N95 masks, the straps need to go all the way behind the head. This is to develop a tighter seal over the mouth. Hence, they are soldered, stitched, or stapled to the mouth cover. This makes the process more labor-intensive and time-consuming.

Earloops don’t form a proper seal over the mouth. Hence, even if the fake N95s have the same electrocharged fibers as the original ones, they are still ineffective. Since the seal is not proper, tiny virus-containing droplets can enter through the cracks. Air follows the path of least resistance. If cracks are present between the face and mask then the air gets sucked in through those cracks first. This will make an infection from virus-containing droplets likely.

The Conundrum

An investigation into this leads to the Shanghai Dasheng Health Products Manufacture Company. It is still unclear as to where the problem really is. The company could be manufacturing their own counterfeits in order to boost profits and save time. It could also be that some other entity is misusing the certification given to Shanghai Dasheng. The company may not be aware of this misuse. The CDC seems to support the latter instance where the certification is being misused by someone else. Shanghai Dasheng was the gold standard for N95 masks at one point in time. China’s foreign affairs ministry even came forward saying that it has been an important part of global COVID-19 response. In one instance, the company through a lawyer even claimed that the masks with ear loops are genuine products.

Final Thoughts

A thorough investigation needs to be conducted to get to the bottom of the matter. Faulty masks put healthcare professionals and thus the entire COVID-19 response at risk. Hence this matter should be settled swiftly and amicably.

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