Texas AG brings price gouging suit against the auction of 750,000 N95 masks

AP/Houston Chronicle:
The state of Texas sued a Houston auctioneer on Thursday after halting an auction of 750,000 medical-grade and N95 face masks, alleging price gouging in the sale of the masks commonly used by health professionals who are on the front lines battling against the new coronavirus.

The lawsuit filed Thursday by the Texas Attorney General's Office alleges that a Tuesday auction by Auctions Unlimited had bidding on N95 respirator masks reaching as high as $180 for a package of 16 masks. Amazon sold a set of 100 for $4.21 in late January. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the auctions and civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.

It was unclear how many bids were taken on the masks, but Auctions Unlimited owner Tim Worstell denied price gouging.

“It is literally impossible to price gouge using the auction method when ALL bids start at $1,” he said in a statement to The Associated Press.

“The bidders, not Auctions Unlimited, decide the price. We did not, or attempt (to), collect a single penny from the auction as alleged. In fact we stated in the auction that no sales would be final until approved by the attorney general's office," he said.

Medical masks have become so scarce that manufacturers in other industries have begun making them, and some hospital systems have asked volunteers to make masks by hand.
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This is an unusual case.  It does look like the end-users would be expected to pay a price well above the normal market price for the masks.  It is an indication of how the coronavirus has impacted the normal market for medical protective equipment.

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