With hospitals and other health care facilities across the United States crying out for lack of proper protective gear against the novel coronavirus, in particular N95 masks, the opportunity for profiteering is being seized not by an underground or black market but by those who have become pop-up middlemen for the N95 mask market.
In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising fears of it across the globe, has been the growing concerns and realities of medical facilities across the United States that do not have access to proper protective gear for workers who are being exposed, or will be exposed, to this dangerous and often deadly, highly contagious virus.
As hospitals and other healthcare facilities scramble up and down dried up supply streams trying to procure these highly sought out masks, people like Brian Kolfage, a 38-year-old Florida military veteran who recently raised millions of dollars in donations for a privately built wall on the U.S. – Mexico border, has started a new venture: hawking millions of N95 masks.
Kolfage has formed a business called America First Medical. Its website and social media pitches offer to broker large-volume sales of N95s at about $4 each. This is a significantly higher cost than pre-pandemic prices but lower than what some healthcare facilities and first responders are now paying. Kolfage claims that he’s found masks all over the world and justified his attempts to make a profit in these critical times as a public service by saying, “We’re the ones out there kissing the frogs and doing all the work that these hospitals and others can’t do… If hospitals want to pay the money, that’s up to them.”
Kolfage is only one of many of the new N95 mask middleground middlemen. As a result of these middlemen, a highly improvised and chaotic market has sprung up with brokers claiming to have access to tens or even hundreds of millions of masks- usually from outside the normal supply channels- with prices much higher than previous retail prices of about $1 each.
According to the medical suppliers and healthcare industry officials, this new market has caused numerous problems including it breaking down standard quality controls and opening the market to an influx of masks whose origins and effectiveness are uncertain. Hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities are fearful of the many scams this has led to but as their supplies run low, they feel that they are being forced to take their chances.
In lieu of these middleground middlemen and the problems that healthcare facilities are having with procuring N95 masks, President Trump signed an executive order on March 23rd that prohibits anyone from hoarding and price gouging medical supplies. The Justice Department has launched a national task force to investigate these and similar schemes.