One of the first things people have been interested to buy since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak has been face masks. This began last month when the outbreak started in Wuhan where the Chinese population began buying every facemask available to protect themselves as it seemed to be the first level of defense to protect individuals during commute, during shopping, and any outdoor activities that could expose one to an individual with the virus.
Even though the health organizations across the globe have been saying that because a majority of the population do not wear the masks properly, a mask is not to be looked upon as a solid defense against Coronavirus spreading. However, this did not matter. Within days of the outbreak in China, the nation sold out of masks. Many relatives and countries across the globe then started sending in masks to China. There have been many instances where relatives in USA, Europe and other nations have bought masks here and shipped them out back to their relatives in the affected region.
This has caused a strain on the availability of masks – especially on the N95 masks, which are touted to be the best possible masks to wear to protect against viruses.
So, I went on to research if there was any retailer that still had any type of N95 masks on sale across the USA with a few zip codes and close by stores. I looked up on Home Depot, Lowes, Advanced Auto Parts, Walmart, Target, Amazon and some local hard ware stores specific to regions.
What I have observed has shocked me. If the masks are to play even a minuscule role in preventing the spread of the Coronavirus disease by, let’s say, possibly bringing down the R0 number ( the number that denotes how many people each possible infected individual could infect), for a specific region where extra care is taken – that will not happen in USA. None of the stores I checked – either online or in store had more than 1 N95 type masks available. Amazon has some resellers selling them for exorbitant prices, but none of the brick and mortar stores nor their websites have availability.
Here is a screenshot from Homedepot – This is the exact thing I could see irrespective of how many zip codes I changed. I called various stores around he New england, Virginia, New York, Texas, California, Washington, Chicago, Detroit areas. Any store location that stated Limited Stock available – were mostly with none available or some with exactly 1 item left where they would not ship it but you would have to try and find the item in the store if it is still present and not ‘lost’ or ‘stolen’.
Here is a same effort when done with Walmart: I did the same research for any N95 masks across the country including major states across New England, New York, Virginia, Texas, California, Washington, Illinois etc.
Walmart however did have some – very very few showing available form third party resellers for exorbitant prices. I believe I have seen one of the items listed below from a third party seller for $119.99.
Amazon has been showing any N95 masks out of stock over the last 2-3 weeks. This has been the case since late January – early February. I did not call Amazon to inquire about when the items would be available to be ordered. I did however again, notice many resellers selling either individual packs or actual packages for exorbitant prices.
This is definitely an indication that even though the President of the Country, CDC and others have been down playing the impact of Coronavirus, there are folks who are either stocking up or have already started to hoard items that may become necessities in case Coronavirus becomes an epidemic in the USA. This also highlights that even before a panic is ensued, the bare minimum necessities might be running too low.
One can only wonder how we as a nation will hold up, in case we start quarantining communities and if we have enough to even be ready as a nation…..