Hospitals and medical workers throughout the United States have received millions of counterfeit face masks while battling the coronavirus pandemic, according to new reports, as experts raced to determine the efficacy of the fake protective equipment.
Nurses and other medical staff were supplied with the counterfeit N95 masks shipped to the US in 2020 and distributed to major hospital networks, NBC News reported, including at least 40 hospitals in Washington state and the prominent Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
In some cases, nurses were aware the masks were counterfeit but felt they had no choice but to wear the fake personal protective equipment.
Daniel Hayes, a nurse and union vice president at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, told the news outlet: “People have been terrified for the last 2½ months. They felt like they were taking their lives in their hands, and they don’t have anything else to wear.”
Hospitals in Washington reportedly received up to 1.9 million fake face masks, which were then sent to medical workers as cases surged across the country.
State hospital associations and leading medical institutions have since acknowledged the fake masks were distributed to frontline staff since November.
However, while many counterfeit masks typically fail to filter out particles carrying the novel coronavirus, recent tests have shown some of the fake PPE is nearly as effective as the N95 face masks used by US hospitals.
Chris Lavanchy, engineering director of ECRI, the nonprofit medical technology testing group which assessed the efficacy of the counterfeit face masks, told NBC News: “e’re kind of scratching our heads trying to understand this situation, because it’s not as black and white as I would have expected.”
“I’ve looked at other masks we knew were counterfeit, and they usually perform terribly,” he added.
Still, the distribution of fake face masks have caused significant concern among hospital workers and researchers across the country. Several investigations have since been launched to determine how the fake N95 masks managed to be sent to medical workers as the pandemic raged on in the US.
More than 466,000 people have died in the US as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to daily tracking data published by the CDC.