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Worthington business accused of price-gouging PPE

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WORTHINGTON ― A Worthington business has made an attempt at price gouging personal protective equipment, according to an area supplier.

A Luverne business has been offering N95 masks sold at cost as a public service, an employee of the business who preferred not to be named told The Globe. Considering overhead cost and the price of paying an employee, the business is actually losing money to provide these needed items of personal protective equipment.

Last week, the employee said, someone came into the store and purchased $700 worth of masks. Because the order was so large, the employee asked the buyer where the masks were going, and the buyer said she was a representative of a Worthington business.

The buyer first claimed she was going to resell the masks at cost, the employee of the Luverne business said. When questioned again by the store owner, she then said she was planning to donate the masks.

On three separate occasions Friday, a person came into the Luverne store and tried to buy a similar number of masks. Each time, the clerk said that for such a large quantity, they would have to verify that the masks were going to a healthcare facility, since that was the original intent of offering N95 masks. Although the three visits were made by different people, they said each time that they worked for the same Worthington business, and were denied service.

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A phone call to the Worthington business revealed that they were not donating masks at all, but selling them at nearly $70 a box after buying them from the Luverne business for $44.95. Two packs come at a cost of $4.50, and the Worthington business is breaking the two-packs apart ― destroying the protective sanitary packaging ― and selling the masks for $4.95 each.

“It’s upsetting that they would try to make a buck off it,” the Luverne business employee said.

In other places in the country, businesses have been penalized for similar actions under the Defense Production Act. While she was hesitant to give an opinion on the legality of the Worthington business' actions, Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith commented that driving up the price on such necessary supplies is counter-productive to fighting a global pandemic.

“Price gouging is never acceptable,” Smith said, “and it’s especially unacceptable to charge more for critical supplies people need during this pandemic. Right now, we need to be thinking collectively and working together for the good of public health.”

Editor's note: As there have been no charges filed against the business, its name is being withheld at this time.

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