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Washington state hospitals learn their supply of N95 masks contain fakes

"To think that there are people ... manufacturing counterfeit personal protective equipment that we need right now so badly during this pandemic," a hospital agency said.
Image: 3M Co. N95 Masks
Stacked N95 masks made by 3M in Hong Kong on April 6, 2020.Justin Chin / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Hospitals in Washington state discovered their supply of N95 masks contained counterfeits after 3M, a company that manufactures the masks, said on Saturday at least some of the vital stockpile for Covid-19 frontline workers were fakes.

The Washington State Hospital Association (WSHA) said 3M notified them about possible knock-off masks circulating in the national supply of personal protective equipment. The association then asked hospitals on Friday to pull the masks from their inventory.

WSHA sent samples to 3M’s fraud department where the company confirmed some of the masks were counterfeit, according to a statement from the hospital association.

"It's a stunning feeling… Just to think that there are people that will do that — out manufacturing counterfeit personal protective equipment that we need right now so badly during this pandemic,” Cassie Sauer, the hospital association president and CEO, told NBC News affiliate KING5.

While the group has yet to confirm the number of knock-offs, they purchased 300,000 masks from a believed third party supplier of personal protective equipment, which added up to about $1.4 million. Of the hundreds of thousands of masks purchased, 60,000 were not distributed.

Sauer said all of the masks had “appropriate paperwork” and passed “physical inspection” and “testing.”

“These N95s are precious resources we need to keep staff safe. It is reprehensible that counterfeiters are selling fake goods,” Sauer said.

3M has flagged several lot numbers, located on the individual masks and the boxes they were shipped in, potentially used by counterfeiters. According to WSHA, some of the lot numbers were among the stock purchased by Washington State hospitals and the hospital association.

The group said that they are waiting on 3M’s investigation into the remaining lot numbers. So far, dozens of hospitals in Washington state have been impacted.

Despite the counterfeit supplies hitting the state, 3M has expedited an order of 1 million masks to help backfill supplies, according to the hospital association.