Some masks issued by state are defective

KN95 masks for sale at a face mask vending machine during the coronavirus pandemic on May 29, 2020, in New York City. Cindy Ord/Getty Images/TNS

Of the KN95 face masks distributed by the state to counties over the last month, 5% are potentially defective and may not provide quality protection against COVID-19, officials said Wednesday, after one Western New York county voiced concerns that its latest shipment of state-issued face coverings may be defective.

State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services officials have continued to deliver thousands of face masks to New York’s 62 counties this week as part of an ongoing effort to help fight the COVID-19 winter surge that has continued to progress since before Thanksgiving.

About 250,000 of the 5 million masks distributed by the state, or about 5%, are low-quality and ineffective in protecting against the fatal upper respiratory infection, according to the state Department of Health on Wednesday.

“The state has distributed millions of masks to counties for schools, libraries and other public facilities, a small portion of which — 5% — are the masks in question,” DOH spokesperson Erin Silk said in a statement. “Impacted counties have been contacted and asked to pull the masks in question and new masks will be shipped out for immediate replacement.”

The department would not answer questions Wednesday about the number of masks sent to each county, what officials should look for to check for ineffective face coverings and if the masks should continue to be distributed.

Representatives from Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul’s office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday about how the state purchased and acquired low-quality or potentially defective face masks.

Of the potentially defective masks, 180,000 were sent to Monroe County, 30,000 to Madison County and 36,000 to Niagara County.

“These counties have been contacted and will receive replacement masks,” according to the DOH.

Monroe County officials issued concerns Tuesday that thousands of KN95 masks purchased and delivered by the state may be foreign imported knockoffs and “may not provide KN95-level protection.

New York Association of Counties Deputy Director Mark LaVigne said county leaders across the state’s 10 regions have not contacted the association about issues with the masks purchased and distributed by the state.

“Nothing has come through that I know of, at least through me,” LaVigne said Wednesday. “My guess is that it’s not a widespread issue, otherwise, we would have heard about it.”

Hochul announced the state would deploy millions of masks to counties by population to help enforce her Dec. 13 order requiring all patrons ages 2 and older and staff wear face masks inside all businesses, or show proof of vaccination against COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported between 60% and 70% of the KN95 masks in the U.S. are faulty, or cheap imitations for low-quality face coverings and protection.

Jefferson, St. Lawrence and Lewis counties received different, unaffected shipments of state-issued face coverings.

The state sent 51,000 masks to Jefferson County.

Jefferson County Public Health Planner Faith E. Lustik said Wednesday that she has not received complaints or concerns related to the county’s shipments as ineffective knockoffs.

Representatives with the public health departments in St. Lawrence and Lewis counties did not return requests for comment about their deliveries of KN95 masks from the state.

Health experts have increasingly urged people to do away with cloth face coverings for more robust, tightly fitting masks since the omicron variant of the coronavirus was discovered in late November.

As health experts across the globe have studied the more virulent omicron strain, they have pushed people to upgrade their face coverings to higher-quality, medical-grade masks such as the N95 or KN95.

The state’s mask or vaccine mandate for businesses expires at the end of the month, but could be extended depending on New York’s coronavirus infection rate.

Times staff writer Rachel Burt and Tribune News Service contributed to this story.

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