Health officials: Save masks for sick

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In recent days, a shortfall in respirator masks has been noted at area home improvement stores that regularly carry the masks on aisles where customers can buy personal protective equipment.

That low stock has been attributed to customers buying up the protective devices as concerns over the community spread of Coronavirus rises, health officials say.

Online, many retailers are sold out, while others are limiting how many customers can buy. Amazon is policing its site, trying to make sure sellers don’t gouge panicked buyers, according to an Associated Press report.

And, there is one specific type of mask seeing the most shortfall, reports indicate.

While perusing store shelves locally, the types of masks most noticeably missing are N95-rated respirators.

While the masks are often used in home improvement projects or industrial applications that result in airborne particulates, they have also been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration as a surgical mask due to their close facial fit and ability to filter more material than typical surgical masks, according to information released by the CDC.

In the wake of the retail shortfall of respirator masks, state, national and local health officials have offered some guidelines and best practices for mask usage and for curbing virus spread.

The Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adans has a simple request for Americans who are concerned about the spread of the coronavirus: “Seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS!” he tweeted on Saturday in response to face mask shortages.

“They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” he continued.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory illness, including COVID-19. Masks are for the patients that may have been exposed to an illness to avoid spreading it to others,” reads a statement provided by Megan Graziano, public education coordinator for the Oneida County Health Department.

“COVID-19 manifests much like the flu. Oneida County has seen a large number of flu cases this season as New York State has…” Graziano said.

“In accordance with CDC guidance, the Madison County Health Department does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Face masks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of face masks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a healthcare facility). The Madison County Health Department is working closely with the State Health Department and our local health care providers to ensure that we will have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment, such as facemasks should the need arise. We would ask residents not to buy face masks so that they will be available to those who truly need them,” writes Madison County Public Information Officer Samantha Field in a statement.

Global mask shortages, national impact

The shortages are being attributed not just to high demand, but to disruptions in supply: An outsize share of the world’s surgical masks are made in China — 50%, by its own estimate. But even factories there that have ramped up production say they are hard pressed to meet local demand. The government has taken over manufacturers, and exports have plunged.

In the U.S., Walgreens, Home Depot, Lowe’s and True Value Hardware are reporting a sharp uptick in sales of masks over the past several weeks and say they are scrambling to get more from suppliers.

Home Depot, the nation’s largest home improvement chain, has limited sales of N95 respirators to 10 per person. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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