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Hospital worker spots shipment of counterfeit face masks

April 5, 2021 GMT
Students file into the Beebe School, in Malden, Mass., Monday, April 5, 2021, as they return to full-time in-person school. The majority of elementary schools in the state returned to full-time, in-person learning Monday. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via AP)
Students file into the Beebe School, in Malden, Mass., Monday, April 5, 2021, as they return to full-time in-person school. The majority of elementary schools in the state returned to full-time, in-person learning Monday. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via AP)
Students file into the Beebe School, in Malden, Mass., Monday, April 5, 2021, as they return to full-time in-person school. The majority of elementary schools in the state returned to full-time, in-person learning Monday. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via AP)

BOSTON (AP) — A sharp-eyed worker at a Massachusetts hospital is being credited with spotting a shipment of tens of thousands of counterfeit N95 surgical masks that could have potentially put the health of frontline medical workers at risk, officials said Monday.

Masks and other protective equipment have been in high demand during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to shortages of many products.

James “Barry” O’Shaughnessy, the manager of procurement of South Shore Health in Weymouth with 25 years of experience, recently placed an order for 30,000 masks — but when they arrived, he noticed something was awry.

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“The labels on the boxes were placed differently than other shipments,” O’Shaughnessy said in a statement. “And the plastic bag inside the boxes had a strange seal. My gut told me something was off.”

He asked a 3M representative to help inspect the third-party masks that were not from a 3M-authorized distributor.

“I sent 20-30 photos of the product to 3M and the representative confirmed my suspicion. The masks were counterfeit,” he said.

The Department of Homeland Security seized the masks and is investigating.

“Barry’s deep experience and keen attention to detail helped protect thousands of South Shore Health employees from wearing counterfeit masks that would put them at risk,” President and CEO Dr. Allen Smith said. “We are grateful for his watchful eyes and dedication to the safety of our colleagues.”

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VIRUS BY THE NUMBERS

The number of new daily cases of COVID-19 topped 2,900 Monday while the number of newly confirmed coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts rose by 43.

The data covered two days because the state did not issue a report on Easter Sunday.

The new numbers push the state’s confirmed COVID-19 death toll to 16,981 since the start of the pandemic, while its confirmed caseload rose to nearly 608,000.

The true number of cases is likely higher because studies suggest some people can be infected and not feel sick.

There were about 700 people reported hospitalized Friday because of confirmed cases of COVID-19, with about 160 in intensive care units.

The average age of those hospitalized was 64. There were an estimated 35,000 people with current active cases of COVID-19 in the state.

The number of probable or confirmed COVID-19 deaths reported in long-term care facilities topped 9,000, another reminder of the toll the disease has taken on the elderly.

More than 3.9 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Massachusetts, including more than 2.4 million first doses and nearly 1.4 million second doses.

Nearly 1.5 million people have been fully immunized.

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VACCINE ELIGIBILITY EXPANSION

More than 1 million additional Massachusetts residents became eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine on Monday.

Residents 55 and older and people with one certain medical condition can now sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine at any of the state’s 300-plus vaccination locations.

Officials warn, however, that depending on supply from the federal government, it could take weeks for people to be notified that an appointment is available at a mass vaccination site.

Eligible medical conditions include: cancer; chronic kidney disease; chronic lung diseases including COPD; moderate to severe asthma; pulmonary hypertension; diabetes; Down syndrome; heart conditions like heart failure and coronary artery disease; an immunocompromised state; liver disease; and obesity.

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SCHOOLS REOPEN

Thousands of Massachusetts elementary school children returned to full-time, in-person learning Monday for the first time in a year.

Education Commissioner Jeffrey Riley last month mandated that all elementary schools should reopen April 5, although school district were allowed to seek waivers. Some schools had already reopened under a hybrid model.

Middle schools are required to reopen full time by April 28. No firm date has been set for reopening high schools for full-time, in-person learning.

About 10% of the state’s school districts have received waivers, including Boston and Worcester. Boston plans to bring K-8 students back for full-time learning no later than April 26, and Worcester by May 3.

Parents retain the option to keep their children home for remote learning through the end of the school year.

The state says in-school coronavirus transmission is limited, and most cases among children are from sources outside the classroom, including family events, after-school activities, and sports.