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Face masks in short supply due to COVID-19: What can you do?

Pharmacies ask customers not to hoard
Posted at 3:01 PM, Feb 24, 2020

At this point, there's a good chance no one in your neighborhood is carrying COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus. But despite that, Americans are stocking up on face masks, causing stores everywhere to run out.

Aimee Hart showed the last two N95 face masks she has in her family's drugstore.

"We can't get them anymore. They are out of stock at the warehouse," Hart said.

Customers like Donna Bruce wonder if it's worth having a few, after she recently saw dozens of fellow travelers wearing them while on an airplane.

"In the airport, I saw more people with masks on," Bruce said.

So, should you buy a pack (if you can find any)?

Why masks may not help

Doctors and pharmacists say while a face mask can help you from spreading germs when you are sick, they say masks really don't do much to prevent you from catching viruses.

The reason: the main way we pick up germs is not from the air but from touching contaminated surfaces.

"Virus transmission is mostly hand to eye, hand to mouth contact, so the best thing is to wash your hands," Hart explained.

The only real way a mask prevents you from getting sick is to keep your dirty hands away from your mouth and nose when you are wearing it, such as on a plane.

But despite that, people are snapping masks up.

We found shelves completely cleared of all varieties of respirator masks at a Home Depot. The nearby Lowe's had just a few sanding masks left.

Social media posts show empty shelves at Walgreens stores as well.

It's getting to the point where contractors and painters are having trouble getting fresh masks to do their job.

Pharmacies plead with people to not hoard masks

At another family-owned drugstore, pharmacy manager Troy Stinson says it is waiting list only.

"We get tons of calls everyday," he said. "And we have people coming in checking for them. But we currently have a back order of 50 people on a list waiting."

So what does he tell nervous people?

"We should really reserve the masks for people who are sick or immuno-compromised," Stinson said.

This leaves Aimee Hart issuing a plea: that you should leave them for the older and ill people who really need masks.

"I would hope that people aren't just hoarding them," she said. "Because that's not going to do anybody any good."

So please, leave them for people who need them, and as always, don't waste your money.

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