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Masks thought to be made by 3M turn out to be fake; lots of questions yet to be answered

Washington State Hospital Association
A fake N95 mask that appears to me made by 3M, but is not.

Dozens of hospitals in Washington have learned that N95 respirator masks thought to be purchased from 3M are knockoffs. The Washington State Hospital Association said there could be up to 2 million of these fake masks circulating in the state. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is investigating. 

“Homeland Security has confiscated millions and millions of fraudulent masks in 2020. They're continuing to do that. And I think they're going to be a really helpful partner for us moving forward,” said Cassie Sauer, the CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association. 

The Washington State Hospital Association is telling hospitals to pull potentially affected masks after receiving notice from 3M. In a call with reporters, Sauer said the fake masks are quite convincing. 

“The head straps are great. They're secured on very nicely. The inside looks just like it's supposed to. It has the metal bar across the top of the nose. It has all the stamps and labels that 3M put on their masks.”

Sauer added, “It is incredibly disheartening, really, really frustrating to discover that we have these masks.” 

The fakes are knockoffs of a very popular type of N95 made by 3M, the 1860, that fits smaller faces better than other masks. 

“That fit is what's so important. It has to fit, it has to have a seal where nothing escapes around that mask. It's very important in these situations. And so the 1860 'small' has been our most successful mask for our clinicians out there,” said June Altaras, RN, senior vice president and chief quality, safety and nursing officer with MultiCare Health System.

The association says so far hospitals turning in the fake masks have enough proper masks from other manufacturers to keep staff protected. It's not yet known whether the fakes are less effective than the masks manufactured by 3M. Also, it's unclear where the fraudulent masks came from or how many are involved, as state hospitals are still sending samples to 3M for testing.

According to the association, there is no increase in COVID cases from hospitals around the country where staff have been wearing these masks. Some hospitals are offering extra COVID testing to staff who are worried about potential exposure. 

State hospitals spent an estimated $5 million to $8 million dollars on the fraudulent masks, according to the hospital association. 3M is sending 1 million masks to the state to replace any counterfeits.



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Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.