The United States Customs and Border Protection agency made a big catch at the O'Hare International Airport in Chicago when they seized as many as 500,000 counterfeit N95 face masks. These fake masks were being taken to a company's storage facility in Manalapan, New Jersey. While not as dangerous as counterfeit drugs, such products can endanger the life of medical professionals and laymen also.
What differentiates an actual N95 mask from the inferior copies that the agents captured is the process of creating them and the fabric employed. A N95 mask is capable of blocking 95 percent of small air particles from passing through. However, the ones seized by customs authority have lesser efficiency.
Discovery of their fakeness
While not every single mask among this lot of 500,000 has been tested, the sample of 10 specimens sent for analysis revealed their fakeness. N95 mask are created using a very elaborate technique wherein hot air is blown through polypropylene – a synthetic plastic – in its melted form. This creates fibers in micro and nano forms. It is these minuscule fibers that block the ultra-small air particles from passing through.
US President Donald Trump has claimed that there is no shortage of such masks in his country but a governmental authority has listed N95 in the category of those medical equipment which are in an inadequate amount. It is perhaps this shortage which has resulted in the counterfeits being manufactured and put into the market.
Shortage of supply
Earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took a risky decision to advise medical practitioners to re-use such masks. This is not an ideal situation. Re-use of masks increases the chances of the virus going through. However, with the widespread nature of the pandemic, it is not feasible to allow only single usage of N95s.
There has been some attempt from the US Government to improve the manufacturing capacity for N95s in the country. President Trump has operationalized the Defense Production Act to push manufacturers towards producing this preventive apparel. Despite this, such is the overwhelming force of the pandemic that even now, the production is not proving to be enough for the demand.
The very question of masks' effectiveness has produced contradictory answers. While wearing a mask was earlier considered almost mandatory, there has been the odd medical voice claiming it won't be enough.