Hundreds of thousands of KN95 masks distributed across New York state in recent weeks are “in question for their effectiveness,” the state Department of Health said this week.
New York shipped millions of KN95 masks to New York counties amid the surge of the Omicron variant and the state’s mask-wearing mandate for indoor public spaces, which took effect in December and has been extended through February 1.
Face coverings are designed to provide a high level of protection against COVID-19, due to the snug fit of the mask and the thin fibers of the material that can block small particles in the air.
N95 masks, which are certified to US standards (KN95 masks are certified outside the country), are often used in healthcare settings, along with surgical masks, which also provide a higher level of protection than cloth masks.
But 250,000 of the roughly 5 million KN95 masks distributed statewide so far, about 5%, are being recalled since questions about their quality were raised.
“The state has distributed millions of masks to counties for schools, libraries and other public facilities, a small portion of which are the masks in question,” Health Department spokeswoman Erin Silk said in a statement this week. “The affected counties have been contacted and asked to remove the masks in question and new ones will be shipped for immediate replacement.”
New York does not require or recommend that residents wear a specific type of mask, other than one that fits snugly against the face.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially discouraged residents from wearing N95 or KN95 masks out of fear of running out of supplies for health care workers, but the agency is now considering recommending those masks amid the variance. Highly contagious ómicron, according to the Washington Post.
The agency reviews the standards for N95 masks on its website, noting that about 60% of KN95s in the country are counterfeit.
Some 180,000 of the masks in question in New York went to Monroe County, out of a total of 337,620 KN95 masks distributed in that county. About 30,000 went to Madison County, between Syracuse and Utica, and another 36,000 to Niagara County in western New York.
The masks were manufactured by Yixian Songlin Bioengineering Co., Ltd. and were provided in clear plastic packages containing 25 units each.
“We are aware of concerns about the quality of some of the KN95 masks purchased by New York State and recently distributed by Monroe County,” county spokeswoman Meaghan McDermott said in a statement. “As soon as Monroe County receives additional masks, we will work to replace masks for those who were unable to wear them.”
In Madison County, the original masks were given to schools and municipal offices for distribution, according to a statement from the county Thursday. It’s unclear when the new masks will arrive, but when they do, they will be distributed in the same locations, the statement said.