The New England Patriots recently sent an airplane full of face masks to Logan Airport in Boston to help front-line health care workers stay safe amid the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. But the type of mask the team sent is little more than a Chinese knockoff of the real thing, which is why many intended recipients are rejecting them.
As it turns out, the iconic NFL team went with what are known as KN95 face masks from China as opposed to real, industry-standard N95 masks that have been proven to work. Consequently, the health care industry is leery about using them, especially after it was exposed that Chinese-made masks could be contaminated due to workers rubbing their dirty feet on them.
Sadly, there are now about one million KN95 Chinese knockoff masks that will likely go to waste because the Patriots apparently failed to research them before ordering and sending them to medical workers. Apparently, some of the masks delivered were the real thing, but most, it sounds like, were not.
“As well-intended and carefully executed as the covert mission to China had been, at least some and possibly many of the roughly one-million protective masks on the team plane were not the time-tested, industry-standard N95 masks that medical workers wear when treating coronavirus patients,” reported the Boston Globe.
“Rather, they were a Chinese version known as a KN95 mask that some hospitals in Boston and beyond have so far declined to use and remain reluctant about today.”
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While some KN95 masks may provide the same level of protection as real N95 masks, assuming they are manufactured correctly, properly tested, and officially authenticated, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has laxed the rules on the use of the unqualified varieties “for the duration of the pandemic.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has similarly decided to drop all standards and allow for the use of KN95 Chinese knockoff masks when supplies of N95 masks are inadequate.
Regardless of what the FDA and CDC have decided about these knockoff masks, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is staying true to its responsibility to only certify the real thing. After all, it’s a matter of life or death, right?
“It is not the gold standard,” says Maryanne Bombaugh, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, as quoted by the Boston Globe. “We know the N95 masks. We know how well they work, and what they filter, and the safety profile around them.”
“We know these [KN95] masks are different,” she added.
Ann Scales, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, acknowledged in an email to the Boston Globe that the mask shipment from the Patriots did, in fact, contain KN95 knockoff masks. She declined, however, to indicate what percentage they were of the total shipment.
“The masks in this shipment, N95 and KN95, were inspected upon arrival and are authorized by the FDA for health care workers,” she stated.
Emergency room workers are especially concerned about using KN95 masks rather than N95 masks because they have far more up-close encounters than workers in other areas of hospitals. Because KN95 masks are “not gold-standard, and gold-standard really matters when lives are on the line,” to quote one ER worker, they simply aren’t acceptable, no matter what the FDA and CDC say.
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