Concerns surface over quality of KN95 masks sent by New York state to Monroe County for distribution

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — There are concerns about the quality from KN95 masks that were sent from New York state to be distributed locally, according to Monroe County officials.

Monroe County officials addressed the concerns Tuesday, saying the masks that were provided from the state “may not provide KN95 level protection,” but residents are still encouraged to use them if they do not currently have access to other higher quality masks.

According to a report from The Washington Post, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is looking at recommending that Americans wear higher quality masks amid the omicron surge.

“The agency is currently actively looking to update its recommendations for KN95 and N95 in light of omicron,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “We know these masks provide better filtration.”

The agency was wary of recommending that people wear N95 or KN95 masks at the beginning of the pandemic due to concerns that doing so would cause a shortage of those masks for health care workers, per the outlet.

Americans would have to be careful about which higher quality masks they obtain, as the CDC has said 60% of the KN95 masks in the U.S. are fake, the Post noted. 

Rochester Teachers Association President Dr. Adam Urbanski said the masks delivered to Monroe County are “defective, cheap imports.” He wants to know why more money wasn’t spent to get higher-quality masks.

“Yeah, it’s ridiculous. It’s cheap stuff that was pawned off on unsuspecting clients and then distributed to very vulnerable people: to children, to students, to the teachers. So no wonder that those who sometimes try to save more money than they should– at a time when they had ample funds from the state– should have invested in good-quality masks. There are KN-95 masks that are made here in the United States.”

Jason Valenti, a 5th-grade teacher in the district, is also asking that question. “I would like to see more of that stuff made in this country, I know we probably have to pay more to do it because we give a living wage,” he says.

“I have to say, this is another example of why the district should have heeded our call to postpone in-person instruction until this surge subsides,” Urbanski said. “Because, if you have a lot of children and a lot of adults in an indoor space for a prolonged period of time — most of the students, being unvaccinated — that’s a recipe for becoming a center of infection.”

The updated recommendation comes as the spread of the omicron variant has driven a renewed spike in COVID-19 cases, with early studies showing that the variant is more transmissible and more able to evade immunity gained from vaccines than past strains of the virus.

The U.S. on Tuesday broke its COVID-19 hospitalization record after individual states such as New York and Florida recently broke their daily COVID-19 case records. 

A statement from a Monroe County spokesperson said:

“We are aware of concerns about the quality of some of the KN95 masks procured by New York State and recently distributed by Monroe County. These concerns have been brought to the attention of state officials, and they are seeking replacement masks. As soon as Monroe County receives additional masks, we will work to replace the masks for those who were unable to use them.

While it appears these masks may not provide KN95 level protection, residents are advised they may continue to use them if they do not have access to higher quality masks.

The masks in question were manufactured by Yixian Songlin Bioengineering Co., Ltd. and were provided in clear plastic packs containing 25 units each. These masks comprised 180,000 units of the 337,620 KN95’s provided to Monroe County by the state.”

Officials from the New York State Department of Health released a statement Tuesday evening, saying:

The State has distributed tens of thousands of masks to counties to provide to teachers and schools as we combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Impacted counties have been contacted and asked to pull the masks in question and new masks will be shipped out for immediate replacement. In the meantime, the Department of Health and the Division of Homeland Security & Emergency Services are conducting an internal review of masks currently in storage.

A statement Wednesday morning from the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce said:

“Greater Rochester Chamber is proud to have distributed 30,000 KN95 masks and 10,000 rapid test kits to businesses throughout the region last week, and we are grateful for the partnership of Monroe County and the Rochester Red Wings. We are aware of reports surrounding the efficacy of a certain brand of KN95 masks. Greater Rochester Chamber is pleased to report that none of the masks we distributed are the masks in question, and we have no evidence or information from Monroe County or New York State indicating that the KN95 masks we handed out are anything but effective. We encourage those with questions to contact us at Chamber@GreaterRochesterChamber.com or Monroe County at COVID19@MonroeCounty.gov“


Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.

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