As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the world, thousands of people are buying face masks to protect themselves.
Some local stores in cities like New York, Houston and San Francisco have told DailyMail.com that supplies are running low and, while major retailers like CVS and Walgreens haven’t yet run out online or at the national level, shortages are starting to crop up.
And a recent national survey found that nearly 96 percent of a small sample of pharmacists said they’d had shortages while restocking and Amazon has introduced measures to beat back price gouging and inflation for the products.
Despite US officials’ warnings that the masks are not (yet) necessary to wear in the US or on planes, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Bella Hadid and Kate Hudson have taken selfies wearing masks out of ‘paranoia.’
The US government even says that it is planning to stockpile 300 million masks in preparation.
The virus, also known as COVID-19, has now sickened more than 82,500 people worldwide and killed more than 2,800.
So will a mask actually prevent you from getting sick?
DailyMail.com breaks down the different types of masks out there, where to buy them – and why they probably won’t prevent someone from coming down with the virus.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MASKS
Flimsy paper ones won’t help but a heavy-duty n95 respirator might
There are two common types of face masks: medical disposable face masks and the N95 respirator.
A standard face mask, which sells for about $1.50 each on Amazon, creates a barrier between the nose and mouth and any droplets or germs in the environment.
They are loose-fitting, disposable and not meant to be shared.
Face masks can prevent splashes and large-particle droplets but they do not ‘filter or block very small particles in the air that may be transmitted by coughs, sneezes or certain medical procedures,’ according to the US Food and Drug Administration.
These are not meant to be used more than once so if you are wearing this mask and it becomes soiled or damaged, throw it away and replace it with a new one.
There are two common types of face masks, standard surgical face masks and N95 respirators while filter airborne particles. Pictured: A vendor in India shows an N95 mask at a medical store, February 7
N95 respirators, considered the ‘gold standard’, are meant to fit much more closely to the face and they are designed to filter airborne particles.
The ‘N95’ number means that during tests, the respirator blocked at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles.
Most of these respirators are manufactured for use in fields such as construction, where workers may be exposed to dust and small particles.
However, these thick masks are very uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time and may make it a bit more difficult to breath.
A two-pack typically sells for about $21.99 on Amazon.
But retailers have been selling the masks on Ebay for as much as $10,000, taking advantage of people’s fears.
The respirators are not meant for children, and experts say men with facial hair may not receive full protection from the mask.
A third type has become increasingly popular: trendy cloth face masks. But studies have shown that paper masks are more effective.
An August 2016 study shows that ‘wearing cloth masks reduced the exposure [from small particles] to some extent,’ but ‘the most commonly used cloth mask products perform poorly when compared to alternative options available on the market.’
It’s unclear what country is the biggest producer of masks for the US, but China is one of the top global producers of medical masks.
And as officials in the virus-stricken country by up masks, it could mean hospitals around the world may be in short supply.
CELEBRITIES STOCK UP ON MASKS
It’s not just the general public that has been pictured covering their noses and mouths.
Hollywood stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Hudson, Bella Hadid and Selena Gomez have been pictured mid-flight wearing face masks.
Paltrow took a selfie in a first-class seat on a flight to Paris wearing a black eye-shade and a black face mask that retails for about $34.
Her caption read: ‘En route to Paris. Paranoid? Prudent? Panicked? Placid? Pandemic? Propaganda?
‘Paltrow’s just going to go ahead and sleep with this thing on the plane. I’ve already been in this movie. Stay safe. Don’t shake hands. Wash hands frequently.’
This a reference to her role in the 2011 film Contagion, in which her character succumbs to a deadly disease.
Meanwhile, Hudson took a photo of herself wearing standard surgical face masks and captioned it: ‘Travel. 2020.’
Many of Hudson’s follower commented that the mask she was using didn’t have any benefits and ‘won’t do much’ in terms of offering protection.
Several celebrities including Gwyneth Paltrow (left), Kate Hudson (right) and Bella Hadid have pictured themselves mid-flight wearing masks. Paltrow wore a black mask that retails for about $34 while Hudson wore a standard surgical face mask
Bella Hadid takes a selfie on an Alitalia flight wearing a face mask
US STORES RUNNING LOW ON SUPPLY OF MASKS
Most surgical face masks can be bought at local drug stores, chain pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart, and even through online retailers including Amazon.
However, pharmacies in New York and Washington, DC told DailyMail.com last month that they had sold out of masks,
Teresa Zhan, a pharmacist at Chinatown Pharmacy Corp in Manhattan, said at the time that her 10 years as an employee, she’s never seen anything like this before.
When boxes, containing 20 to 30 masks each, began disappearing off the shelves, Zhan said her pharmacy began selling them individually.
‘We had to restrict people to no more than five each,’ she said.
‘It wasn’t fair that people kept buying boxes and then there wouldn’t be any left for other customers.’
And they’re not the only ones. A spokesperson for Home Depot told Yahoo Finance that customers are limited to buying 10 face masks each.
Several retailers throughout the US have either run low or completely run out of face masks, and HHS Secretary Alex Azar says the country needs 300 million masks. Pictured: A woman wearing a face mask walks past empty shelves n Hong Kong, February 6
Several stores across the country, including in California, Hawaii and Texas, have reported that their supplies of masks are running low if not completely gone.
A Daily Beast report also said New York’s Bellevue Hospital, which examined the city’s first suspected case of coronavirus in January, was running low on masks.
The supply ‘dipped by hundreds over the course of a day’ after news got out about the patient.
However, a spokesperson insisted the hospital had plenty of masks and stated: ‘We cannot confirm that report and we have the supplies we need.’
On Tuesday, US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the country currently has a stockpile of 30 million N95 surgical masks but estimates 300 million are needed.
That estimate is several times the number of American health care workers, Azar said and reflects the need of doctors and nurses to replace masks.
The US is currently not in short supply, but Azar says the nation does not have the manufacturing capacity to produce 300 million masks.
MOST MASKS WON’T PREVENT YOU FROM GETTING SICK
Doctors say that masks may reduce the risks of viral transmission but they can’t entirely prevent it.
‘A mask is going to be protective if it’s worn well,’ Dr Robert Amler, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief medical officer and dean of New York Medical College, told DailyMail.com in an earlier interview.
‘But if it’s worn for a long period of time, it tends to slip around a bit.
‘It’s not going to prevent every droplet from getting into your mouth or nose, but for short periods of time it might be helpful.’
What’s more, because virus particles are so small, and paper masks are porous, air can leak through around the nose area and on the side of the masks.
‘Those masks are not really designed to prevent people from inhaling viruses,’ Dr Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine and public health at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, told Yahoo Finance.
‘What they are designed to do is to prevent people from coughing or sneezing respiratory viruses that they might have outward.’
And while there is evidence that masks with an N95 rating can be effective, particularly among healthcare workers, the CDC does not recommend routinely using respirators outside of workplace settings.
Most experts say that while masks lower the risk of viral transmission, they can’t entirely prevent it. Pictured: People wear face masks at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall in Taipei, Taiwan, February 27