Coronavirus causes mask shortage at SWFL pharmacies, but is there a reason to worry?

Reporter: Veronica Marshall
Published: Updated:
Travelers wear face masks as they walk outside of the Beijing Railway Station in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. China reported Monday a sharp rise in the number of people infected with a new coronavirus, including the first cases in the capital. The outbreak coincides with the country’s busiest travel period, as millions board trains and planes for the Lunar New Year holidays. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The coronavirus has killed more than 630 people, the majority in China. Globally, it has infected over 31,400 people across 25 countries and territories.

More flights from China arrived in the U.S. Friday carrying American evacuees and Royal Caribbean is now banning anyone who has traveled through China in the last 15 days.

Here in Southwest Florida, medical face masks are sold out at many stores.

Robert Hawkes is the director of the physician assistant program at Florida Gulf Coast University. He says, “I think people are probably really concerned and nervous about the spread of the coronavirus and what may happen…”

Despite the CDC saying the coronavirus threat is low in the U.S., the pharmacies we checked in Lee and Collier counties had empty shelves where masks once were and now have signs warnings about the virus.

CVS told us in a statement:

“We’re working with our suppliers to meet customer demand for face masks. This demand may cause shortages at some store locations and we are re-supplying those stores as quickly as possible.”

And Walgreens said:

“We have been seeing greater demand for certain products, such as face masks and hand sanitizers, in many of our stores. We continually and closely monitor these types of situations, and are working with our supplier partners to help ensure we can meet the needs of our customers.”

Medical professionals say they may not help you that much anyway.

Hawkes says, “A lot of those store-bought masks are really not going to be that effective … The reality is this virus is actually so small that a lot of these masks people are wearing are really not going to help them.”

It’s the same advice the CDC gave in an informational video they posted. Stressing while the masks may not protect you from the virus, they could be useful to wear if you are currently sick— stopping you from spreading your illness.

In the meantime, Hawkes says the best advice for staying healthy is proper handwashing.

Both Lee Health and NCH say their supply of face masks have not been impacted.

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