Tennessee stops handing out chemical-treated masks

Politics

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The state of Tennessee has stopped distributing face masks provided for use by counties responding to the coronavirus after they were found to be treated with a chemical.

Tennessee’s emergency management agency told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the state has paused further distribution of the masks to county health departments while more information is gathered on the chemical, known as Silvadur.

The move came after the health departments in Shelby, Knox and Hamilton counties stopped distribution of the masks. They have been treated with Silvadur, an anti-microbial agent applied to fabrics to reduce growth of bacteria that cause odor, the Shelby County Health Department said in a news release Monday.

Trace amounts of Silvadur are applied to the fabric and the chemical diminishes each time the mask is washed, health officials said.

North Carolina-based Renfro Corp., a sock manufacturer, secured an $8.2 million, no-bid contract for more than 5 million masks for distribution for free in Tennessee. The masks had been touted by Gov. Bill Lee.

The state has already distributed more than 3.2 million masks, TEMA spokesman Dean Flener said.

TEMA said in a fact sheet that the Renfro face masks are made in accordance with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s emergency authorization for nonsurgical masks.

Tennessee has reported more than 23,550 cases of COVID-19 and at least 367 deaths.

Renfro Corp. issued a statement after the state halted distribution of the masks.

Also in Shelby County, which includes Memphis, health officials said about 1,500 prison inmates and more than 500 staff will be tested for COVID-19 at the county’s correctional facility starting Tuesday.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening.

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Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

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