Over 750,000 Masks Auctioned at Huge Markup While Hospitals Run Out

April 02, 2020



In an unprecedented time when a lack of protective gear is putting healthcare workers at risk, price gouging for medical-grade masks are up for auction. In Texas, about 750,000 medical-grade masks went up for online auction.


Bottles of Purell hand sanitizers sold for over $40, while a box of 16 masks ran for $170. These now essential items were only around $3, on average, before the coronavirus pandemic.


The week-long bidding hosted by Auctions Unlimited, Houston-based online auction, ended last Tuesday and raked in $154,000 in sales of mainly health-related products, according to Time Worstell, who estimated to have made as much as $40,000 on the sales.


Worstell said without divulging names of the buyers that his online auction company was commissioned by larger corporations to sell masks, disinfectant wipes, cleaning solutions, and hand sanitizer. All these items are now high demand items as the coronavirus wreaks havoc across the nation.


Since attorney generals in Texas have issued a cease-and-desist order on March 20 blocking the sales during a state of emergency, Worstell said all the transactions are still pending because it needs approval from law enforcement to complete the sale.


Worstell said he’ll reauction all the items starting at $1 as soon as the state of emergency is lifted if approval is withheld. Worstell had also cooperated with Houston law enforcement and turned over the names of the sellers.


Essential items


As of Tuesday afternoon, 52,145 Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and 677 patients have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.


As the numbers continue to surge higher, hospitals find themselves lacking in essential gear such as masks and gloves.


New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is among the chief executives who’ve complained about the shortage of medical equipment and supplies. Governor Cuomo said that when state officials can locate items the prices are often inflated. Masks, for example, were priced at .58 cents before the COVID-19 outbreak are nor sold at $7.50.


Each state has its ruling on price gouging. It's illegal to sell medicine for “an exorbitant or excessive price” during a state of emergency, in Texas. Individuals or corporations' civil penalty goes as high as $10,000 per violation.


Worstell doesn’t view the online auctioning as profiteering. “Everything I’ve got starts at $1, and it stops when the bidding stops. So, I’m not demanding a particular price,” he said.


Donate equipment


Worstell said he persuaded the sellers to donate the essential medical equipment, only a handful complied. Other corporations were adamant, and Worstell proceeded with the auction, even though it was not an easy decision for him.


On March 17, Auctions Unlimited began the bidding on the medical supplies. But on March 20, he received the cease-and-desist order. although only a warning, Worstell said it ordered him to “immediately discontinue these practices.”


On Tuesday, President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act. The Act makes it easier for the federal government to demand that businesses produce key items such as surgical masks, gloves, and other essential supplies.