Surgical masks sell out in Brevard pharmacies amid coronavirus fears
Though only 13 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the US, a look around the shelves at Brevard drugstores show residents are already gearing up for a feared pandemic.
The respiratory illness in question, 2019 novel coronavirus, originated in Wuhan City in China in December and has so far killed over a thousand people in China. Over 45,000 cases have been confirmed worldwide.
Surgical masks, worn by some as a sanitary measure in hopes of preventing the spread of the respiratory illness, have been swept from the shelves at drugstores across the county. Based on search on the CVS website, it appears every CVS from Titusville to Vero Beach has sold out of the masks. A search on the Walgreens website shows no masks in stock in the county. They aren't available online for either retailer.
And the shortage doesn't appear to be a momentary blip — the CVS on 3050 N Wickham Rd has been out of the masks for two weeks now, said a store associate. A manager at the Walgreens at the Post Road and Wickham Road intersection said her store has been out of stock since Feb. 2.
Both the Walgreens and CVS employees said they could not give their names because corporate policies forbid them from speaking to the media.
Running out of masks is a rare occurrence for some pharmacies. Lori Petro, who's worked at Hobbs Pharmacy on Merritt Island for about a year, said she's never heard of the store running out of masks before. In the past few weeks the employees constantly restocked the shelves until supplies run out.
Three or four people come in to ask about the masks every day, she said.
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News reports show stores across the country are selling out of the masks quickly; stores can't keep them on the shelves. CVS spokesman Joe Goode said customer demand for face masks has caused shortages at "some store locations," but did not specify which ones. He said CVS is working with its suppliers and restocking the stores as quickly as possible.
Walgreens spokeswoman Alex Brown said her company, too, is experiencing shortages.
"We are seeing great demand for products including face masks, causing shortages in various markets," Walgreens spokeswoman Alex Brown said. "We and our healthcare suppliers are working to ensure we can meet the needs of our customers."
Brown would not say whether Walgreens' shortage extended across the US or whether it was related to a global shortage its suppliers are experiencing.
Some coronavirus fears in the US are overblown, said Yang Yang, a biostatistics professor at University of Florida's Emerging Pathogens Institute. Few cases have been reported in the US, and those returning from Hubei province — the epicenter of the epidemic — are subject to a 14-day quarantine.
"I think people don't have to overreact at this time in the US," Yang said
Still, Yang said it's a good idea for Americans to prepare themselves with supplies in case of an outbreak. He himself bought masks three weeks ago.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently does not recommend that the general public wear face masks. Instead, the general public should take everyday precautions: washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes and staying home when sick, according to the CDC website.
The CDC does, however, recommend that infected people and their family members wear them. Health workers treating coronavirus patients should go further and wear eye coverings, gowns and gloves.
Yang said it's wise of the CDC not to recommend wearing face masks at this time due to the current low risk of coronavirus infection in the US. Wearing face masks in the streets, he said, will further stoke fear and paranoia.
He said it's also important to keep in mind that the masks won't completely protect against infection. Though surgical masks protect wearers from big droplets from sneezes and coughs, finer mists can still get through.
That means people need to remember other precautions even while wearing a mask: stay several feet away from anyone who's coughing, he said, and as always, remember to wash your hands.
Bailey Gallion is the business and development reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallion at email@example.com or 321-242-3786.