(CNN) — Officials from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have seized millions of counterfeit masks since the beginning of the pandemic. But recent months have seen an “exponential increase” in seizures of counterfeit masks, a CBP official told CNN.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, CBP has seized more than 34 million counterfeit masks, most of them modeled to look like N95 or KN95 masks. About 20 million of those masks have been seized in 2021, said John Leonard, acting deputy executive commissioner for the agency’s Office of Commerce.
“The mask is really the most visible symbol of this pandemic,” Leonard told CNN. «[Los falsificadores] They seek to take advantage of this situation.
Counterfeit masks resemble N95 masks, considered the most effective in preventing transmission of the new coronavirus, but they do not offer the same level of protection, Leonard said. They may be missing some of the components that make N95 masks so effective, such as headbands in maintaining a sealed fit.
CNN reported in February that the agency had seized 14 million counterfeit masks from the beginning of the pandemic through the end of 2020. That month, the number of masks that officials were seizing “flew again,” Leonard said.
Officials made two notable seizures recently: In February, more than 108,000 fake N95 masks, marketed under the 3M brand, were seized in Cincinnati. The following month, CBP found 65,000 fake masks at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, which also bore the 3M logo.
Counterfeit masks seized
Counterfeit masks make up the majority of seizures, but CBP agents have also seized around 180,000 unauthorized COVID-19 tests. Nearly 39,000 chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine tablets were seized, a move the agency takes when drugs are imported into the United States without approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CBP did not provide details on these tablets.
If consumers are unaware that products are ineffective, they could give them a “false sense of security,” potentially increasing transmission of the new coronavirus, CBP said in a report.
Leonard attributes the rise in counterfeit seizures to the current demand for masks as the pandemic continues. As more of the US population is vaccinated, the number of counterfeit masks attempting to enter the US may decrease, Leonard said, based on consumer demand.
Face masks will continue to be a part of American life, even when millions more are vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) They encourage people who have been vaccinated to continue to wear masks and maintain physical detachment when in public. The agency is waiting to learn more about whether fully vaccinated people can still transmit the coronavirus to other people who are not vaccinated.
How to identify counterfeit masks?
There are ways to differentiate real masks from copycats.
Fake masks may have the following, according to the CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH):
- They are not NIOSH approved. NIOSH only certifies facepiece masks like the N95 if they filter at least 95% of the particulates. Without NIOSH approval, you cannot be sure that your mask is equally protective.
- Earmuffs A true N95 mask has headbands instead of earmuffs, which helps the mask form a seal against your face.
- Sequins or other artifacts. According to NIOSH, altering an N95 mask in any way could make it less effective, and NIOSH does not approve a mask that has been changed or decorated.
- Other Directions: Look for typographical errors in product descriptions or packaging. The incredibly low prices may be too good to be true. And if the seller says that the mask is approved for children, it is not. NIOSH does not approve N95 masks for children.The complete list NIOSH-approved N95 respirators are available from the CDC.
– CNN’s Maria Morava contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism