CDC: Masks given to first responders in West Virginia might be counterfeit

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told West Virginia officials that respirator masks distributed to 50,000 first responders might be counterfeit, but officials decided to leave them in use, according to a report.

After the warning, the state’s top public safety official issued a report to first responders that said the masks are “authentic,” the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported Tuesday.

“These masks are genuine products from Shanghai Dasheng Health Products Manufacture Co. Ltd. (Dasheng) and not counterfeit,” Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy said in an April 16 memo.

A model of the mask with ear loops was “being misrepresented as” approved by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the CDC said. Masks with ear loops instead of head bands often don’t have the proper fit to provide sufficient protection, according to the health agencies.

Half of the 100,000 respirators West Virginia purchased were models with ear loops.

The agency stood by the masks Monday in a statement to the newspaper.

“Secretary Sandy conducted research and concluded that these masks were made by the stated manufacturer and at its facility in China,” public safety department spokesman Lawrence Messina wrote in an email Monday evening. “He notes that he conducted this research with a background as a career federal agent who had handled multiple international investigations.”

Some emergency officials were concerned despite the assurances, according to emails obtained by the newspaper though a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Most people don’t notice, including first responders, ear loops on N95s,” West Virginia Fire Chief Association President Randy James said. “Whatever PPE are given to (first responders), I want them to know the absolute limitations of that device. … I wouldn’t have known about ear loops or anything like that; somebody throws me a mask, I put it on.”

James said he emailed State Fire Marshal Ken Tyree on April 21 to raise concerns and urge communication but never heard back.

The CDC said it reviewed photos and samples of the masks sent to West Virginia.

“The photos of the DTC3X respirators sent by Jeff Sandy had ear loops and are being misrepresented as NIOSH-approved,” wrote Kim Gavel, deputy branch chief of the CDC/NIOSH National Personal Protective Technologies Lab in Pittsburgh.

Sandy asked whether another mask model with ear loops would provide the same protection as NIOSH-approved masks, Gavel wrote. She said products claiming to be KN95s should filter 95% of particulates, but that standard wasn’t met with the samples of possible counterfeit respirators received and tested.

The CEO of a company that helps train and support emergency responders said in an email to a county official that the ear loop masks shouldn’t be used by first responders,

“First, these are definitely counterfeit masks and they should not be used for emergency front line emergency operations, especially for anyone dealing directly with a COVID-19 patient,” said Christina Baxter, the CEO of Emergency Response Tips.

The respirators distributed by the state are more comparable to surgical masks, she wrote.

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