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Counterfeit masks sold to Washington hospitals may actually be effective

3M brand N95 particulate respirators are displayed on a table on July 28, 2020 in San Anselmo, California. (Photo Illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Millions of counterfeit N95 masks sold to Washington hospitals may actually be usable, despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Homeland security plans to remove them from service.

In early February, mask manufacturer 3M issued warnings to several hospitals in Washington that they may have received counterfeit masks. In total, Washington Hospital Association CEO Cassie Sauer believes up to 40% of the state’s hospitals inadvertently took in some quantity of the fake masks.

At this point, it’s unclear how they entered circulation, but what’s becoming more evident is that the counterfeits were surprisingly up to par.

Millions of potentially fake N95 masks pulled from local hospital shelves

“The best theories about where these masks came from are either someone working at a 3M factory stole the specs and went and built them someplace else, or they’re actual overruns from an actual 3M factory that someone is operating in an overnight shift,” Sauer said Monday.

Washington hospitals have only been able to identify the fakes based on lot numbers attached to shipments, given that the counterfeits are difficult to discern from 3M’s own stock.

Because of that, the masks themselves could be effective if used, even while Homeland Security is sweeping them up and taking them out of circulation entirely.

“It’s a sophisticated operation,” Sauer noted. “They’re good masks, but we do believe that Homeland Security is going to confiscate them all, even if they’re shown to be effective.”

Over 11 million total masks across five states have been seized nationwide as part of the scheme.

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