Illinois spent $17 million on masks from China that are now being recalled in other states

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CHICAGO — Millions of masks purchased by the State of Illinois from China may not be useable by those on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic, after multiple states recalled similar equipment Thursday.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker has been scouring the world for gowns, gloves and masks to protect medical workers and first responders across the state from COVID-19.

That includes many KN95 masks bought from China, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this month was an acceptable alternative to the United States approved N95 masks. State spending records reveal Illinois has already spent nearly $17 million buying the KN95 masks.

But now, officials in Missouri are recalling thousands of KN95 masks after testing by the state’s Department of Health and Senior Services over the weekend found some did not meet their standards, according to director Sandy Kartsen.

An alert from the Illinois Department of Public Health followed, saying the KN95 masks may not meet performance standards and counterfeit masks are “flooding the marketplace.”

The department recommends agencies remove any KN95 masks that have already been received.

Pritzker said the state is doing its best to be vigilant as they rush to buy more equipment.

“You know things come in shipments of a million – you can’t go through one mask at a time and so you try to take samples from the shipments that come in, make sure you got what you are paying for,” Pritzker said during a press conference Thursday.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza also acknowledged the wild west nature of purchasing personal protective equipment in an interview last week. 

“This is what we’ve resorted to these days:  it kind of feels like you’re doing a sketchy drug deal on the side of the road when you’re trying to save people’s lives,” she said.

The IDPH is advising hospital staff not to use the KN95 masks during higher-risk environments, and rely on N95 masks instead.

Additionally, in new guidance issued Thursday night the IDPH said they would not recall any previously-distributed masks and advised first responders they could be used as “crisis alternatives.”

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