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By Nidiane Martinelli, PhD
Unfortunately, the world is not rainbows and candies. Despite the already-existing tragedy of deaths, economic collapse, and sadness, the coronavirus pandemic also brought to light the unscrupulous greed of manufacturers and importers worldwide. In desperate times, humanity is challenged — and some of the humans failed big.
We say this based on the latest news of N95 counterfeit masks being sold and distributed worldwide including here in the US. As stated in a previous post, N95 or KN95 are respirators subjected to strict tests of performance to block possible pathogens. When a health worker is using it, the chance of getting contaminated with COVID-19 is usually 5% or even less. These are critical resources as health care workers come in close contact with sick people everyday and need elevated protection.
The analysis made by the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory (NPPTL) uncovered that many imported respirators did not meet the standard test for N95s. Some masks showed a filtration efficiency as low as 17%. This is more than 5 times less efficient than NIOSH requires for such respirators! In other simplistic words, it is 5 times riskier for anyone to contract COVID-19 when to be using those falsified respirators versus authentic ones(based solely on respirators and not other measures).
Manufacturers and vendors are sadly exploiting the urgent need of hospitals and care facilities at the cost of human lives, and it is a problem of global proportions. Chinese authorities seized 31 million counterfeit masks this February, and made 1,560 arrests. The US’s own Homeland Security has opened more than 130 investigations related to coronavirus crimes. And investigators have seized more than $3 million in illicit funds, 225 illegal shipments, shut down 11,000 websites and made nine arrests in relation to fake or low-qualitym asks.
At a time that the world cannot afford to have health care professionals getting sick, these companies are kidding around with lives. The CDC reported that approximately 19% of patients with COVID-19 were health care professionals who had set out to treat the infected. Among them, 55% reported having contact with a positive COVID-19 patient only in a health care setting within the 14 days before their illness onset. One cannot assume that they were all using counterfeit respirators — but one can’t help but wonder and ask if those people getting sick could be avoidable.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published information to try to help consumers and health professionals to identify counterfeit respirators. For instance, usually, these counterfeits respirators don’t have markings at all or approval numbers printed on them. They also lack any NIOSH markings or have it misspelled. Sometimes, in an attempt to appeal to people’s vanity or advertise towards children, they will have a decorative fabric or sequins on it. Another clue? Fake N95 respirators usually have ear loops while NIOSH-approved will have headbands.
Accordingly to the CDC, the most essential marking to verify NIOSH approval is the respirator’s approval number, called its “TC Number.” This number can be checked on the NIOSH List of Approved Filtering Facepiece Respirators or on the NIOSH Certified Equipment List. If your mask doesn’t bear this number, it shouldn’t be used in any setting, much less a high-risk one.
Usually, desperate times call for extreme measures, but this is an example of needless desperation. During the current pandemic, we have seen front line health care workers wearing even trash bags as protective measures do to an unprepared system. Woefully, they are now being subjected to respirators without assurances that they are protected or not. It is critical to make every effort to ensure the health and safety of everyone during the Coronavirus pandemic. While the authorities investigate the performance and origins of the masks, the best people can do is to get informed to be aware of any suspicious signs of counterfeit.
Need to outfit your employees with professional-grade KN95s (a CDC-approved alternative to N95s)? Protect your customers with disposable surgeon masks? The/Studio is a responsibly-sourced, verified seller of protective personal equipment to international companies, family businesses, military groups and individuals. Place your order here.
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