Federal agents have seized about 11 million fake N95 masks as part of ongoing investigations and efforts to prevent counterfeit masks from being sold to hospitals and first responders.

The seizures took place over the course of a few weeks in operations across five states, with hundreds of thousands of masks seized from an east coast warehouse in the agency’s most recent enforcement action. Homeland Security Investigations also worked with international law enforcement partners to dismantle sources of supply and prevent shipments from reaching U.S. shores, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Wednesday.

The department added that more enforcement actions are expected in the coming weeks

“These seizures illustrate the ongoing efforts of HSI, CBP, and private industry in keeping our communities and medical staff safe and free from counterfeit products,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

“Often, this battle is fought behind the scenes and is unknown to the general public, but you can be assured that the DHS workforce remains firmly committed to protecting the health and safety of our medical workers, the American public, and the integrity of the American economy.”

Initial leads about the fake products came from 3M, who shared reports of suspected counterfeits being purchased for healthcare workers.

“This collaboration has helped prevent millions of counterfeit respirators from reaching frontline workers. We are committed to fighting the pandemic from all angles—manufacturing needed PPE, working to prevent counterfeiting, and helping ensure N95s get to where they are needed the most,” Kevin Rhodes, 3M Deputy General Counsel, said in a statement.

The investigation into counterfeit masks is being conducted under the department’s Operation Stolen Promise, a government initiative launched in April last year to combat threats posed by pandemic-related fraud and criminal activity such as countering fake PPE or phone vaccines.
As of Feb. 12, the department has arrested 227 individuals related to these alleged offenses, served 222 criminal search warrants, opened 862 investigations, and seized over $33.2 million in illicit proceeds.

N95 respirators are similar to medical masks in their protection value but respirators generally used for certain procedures because of their ability to be tightly fitted.

According to World Health Organization, respirators like N95 are “designed to protect healthcare workers who provide care to COVID-19 patients in settings and areas where aerosol-generating procedures are undertaken.”
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