BAR HARBOR—Administrators at Conners Emerson School learned this week that it, along with other schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, had received counterfeit N95 masks from the Maine Department of Education. The masks were not distributed to, or used by, staff or students.
“You may have heard about the many N95 masks being recalled…approximately half of what we’ve received have been recalled,” said Principal Barbara Neilly during her report at Monday’s school committee meeting.
“We received many boxes of N95 masks from MDOE…I don’t have the exact number, said Neilly. Neilly said the school was contacted by MDOE to look at the serial numbers for the boxes and to separate ones identified as possibly being counterfeit. “But it’s also important to note that we have plenty of N95 masks that were not identified.”
Roughly 140,000 of the approximately 161,000 affected respirators distributed by the state were given to 55 schools and districts for nurses as well as other clinical staff. Affected districts have been contacted by the MDOE, which is working with the state’s Division of Procurement Services to replace the stock that was intended to support the schools during the next several months, according to a MDOE press release.
Superintendent Marc Gousse said that the schools in the system that received these N95 masks were alerted immediately. “As soon as we received those [masks], we got a notification to gather them up and not distribute them,” he said. Whatever may be wrong with the masks, Gousse said the local schools are not using them.
“Right now, we have an adequate amount of masks that are safe and other PPE from the state, and are just awaiting for more guidance from them,” he said.
Two million potentially counterfeit N95 masks remain at state warehouses.
Maine was not the only state to get the counterfeit masks, according to Jaime Schorr, the state’s chief procurement officer. “In addition to the [state] recall, federal authorities have announced an investigation into a counterfeit N95 operation in which fake 3M respirators were offered and/or sold to a growing list of government agencies and health care facilities across multiple states, including New Jersey, Washington, Ohio and Minnesota,” he said, adding that the state “has contacted federal authorities to determine whether these recalled respirators should be incorporated into its investigation alongside other states.”
The National Recall Alert Center’s recall notice is specific to medical-grade 3M respirators, models 1860 and 1860S, blue in color. These masks require a fitting and are generally for doctors and nurses, not the general public.
While the recall has heavily impacted local schools, approximately 3,000 affected respirators were also sent to 64 health care facilities and the remaining approximately 18,000 recalled respirators were distributed to DHHS employees with patient-facing roles. These health care facilities have been alerted and the Maine CDC will work with those facilities to replace the units. The recalled units have been removed from circulation and alternative N95 respirators will be made available.
Vendors of the faulty masks claimed that the items were NIOSH-approved, authentic 3M brand N95 respirators. Before the masks were ordered, Maine was provided samples from these vendors, which were inspected for quality through fit testing that passed the review.
The Division of Procurement Services is now investigating the matter and is in direct contact with officials at 3M, including the 3M COVID-19 Fraud, Price Gouging and Counterfeit Product Response Team. If the investigation finds that these items are indeed fraudulent, the division will seek full reimbursement. Once confirmation of fraud is received from 3M, the names of the vendors will be released.