In a time of great need for medical personal protective equipment, US authorities discovered that many counterfeit medical supplies have already reached the hospitals in the country. As health workers continue to battle the deadly disease, they worried that they are being sent to the battlefield without any protection.
On a day that a cargo plane landed at the Los Angeles International Airport, the supposedly protective gears they have been waiting for has finally arrived, the first N95 medical masks in almost six weeks. However, it did not solve the problem.
According to the investigation by the Associated Press, they found that the masks from the shipment were counterfeits, as well as millions of medical gloves, gowns, and other supplies being used in hospitals across the country, putting the lives of healthcare workers at risk.
Federal Trade Law Enforcement Agencies Focused on Busting Counterfeit Medical Supplies
It turns out, that the counterfeit medical supplies discovered on the cargo at the Los Angeles International Airport on March was not the only one. To date, Operation Stolen Promise, spearheaded by the Homeland Security Investigations of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has achieved 11 arrests and 519 seizures.
Despite the efforts made, counterfeit medical supplies still reach hospitals in the US. The federal law enforcement agencies have already shifted their focus on busting counterfeit medical supplies.
HSI's assistant director for Global Trade Investigations, Steve Francis, said that sending counterfeit masks and other supplies are unprecedented especially in times like this that healthcare workers are placing their lives at risk, however they still end up being exploited.
Associated Press identified the counterfeit masks when they were reviewing film of the Los Angeles shipment. The name of the Chinese factory Shanghai Dasheng was on the blue and yellow boxes being unloaded in a Southern California warehouse.
The masks inside were stamped as if it was approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the United States, signifying that the government has issued a certification that the product is safe to use by the healthcare workers.
But a day before the cargo arrived, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a very specific warning that all N95 masks with ear loops from Shanghai Dasheng were counterfeit. N95 masks filter out 95% of all airborne particle that is why those masks should be tight enough to do its job. But an N95 with ear loops instead of headbands will not do that.
Masks with Earloops are not as Effective
Earloop masks are cheaper to manufacture since the straps are attached using a glue to the face covering. While headbands of genuine N95 masks need to be stitched, stapled or soldered to have a tighter seal over the nose and mouth of the wearer.
Even though both a counterfeit and real N95 masks have the same electro fibers, masks with ear loops are not as effective because tiny airborne droplets carrying the coronavirus can get sucked through the cracks.
Infectious disease expert Shawn Gibbs, the dean of Texas A&M University's School of Public Health, said that the fluid or droplets follows the path of least resistance, so if someone is breathing and the N95 mask does not have a good fit, it will just go around.