The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- commonly known as ICE -- is teaming up with e-commerce powerhouse Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), N95 mask producer 3M (NYSE:MMM), and pharma giant Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) to figure out ways to interdict the flow of counterfeit and substandard masks, coronavirus tests, and other pandemic-related equipment crossing U.S. borders, reported The Wall Street Journal Tuesday.  

The need for medical equipment -- personal protection equipment (PPE) in particular -- with which to fight the novel coronavirus is well-documented. So, too, is the present inability of U.S. industry to produce domestically sufficient quantities of what the country needs. As a result, buyers have been importing tons of PPE and other medical gear.

Unfortunately, not all of it has been up to snuff.

Healthcare worker in mask and head covering looking sad and tired

Image source: Getty Images.

Take, for example, the much-discussed (and sought-after) N95 mask. The "N95" in the name means that such masks are capable of filtering out 95% of particles 0.3 microns or larger from the air that the wearer is breathing.

In a story that ran over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal detailed how certain alleged N95 masks imported from China were discovered upon testing to filter out only 35% of small particles. Other masks, designated KN-95 to indicate that they're a Chinese version of 3M's well-regarded N95, filtered out less than 15% of particles!  

This is more than just a problem of buyers not getting what they paid for. As Director of ICE's National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center Steve Francis says, substandard coronavirus gear "poses a serious health concern to the American public" -- and to the doctors and nurses operating on the front lines in the fight against the SARS-CoV-19 coronavirus in particular.

To combat this plague of intellectual property rights violations and fraud, ICE is working with Amazon, 3M, Pfizer, and others to identify who is selling faulty merchandise, take down the counterfeiters' websites, seize counterfeit shipments at the border -- and prosecute the offenders.

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