KING COUNTY, Wash. — People are bracing for a coronavirus outbreak in the United States and demand for things like face masks and rubber gloves are surging -- leading to empty shelves and shortages.
After the CDC warned people earlier this week that the spread of the virus in the U.S. is only a matter of time, stores saw another surge in people trying to brace for a worsening situation.
Shelves for face masks at Home Depot in Shoreline are completely bare.
Store employees said all stores in the Seattle area are sold out with people buying masks in bulk.
“We do inventory for Home Depot as a third party,” said Gus Wood, who was in the parking lot with coworkers on Thursday.
“Everyone was asking for face masks, so I’m not surprised at all. It’s a pretty big deal, that’s what I’m hearing and now I’m getting scared, cause it’s coming!"
People on social media say masks are also sold out at stores like Target, Bartells, and other pharmacies.
Others are turning to Amazon, only to find masks sold out there too, or listed at astronomical prices.
KIRO7 checked Amazon Thursday and found five masks priced at $200, and it doesn’t even include shipping. Another listing was selling four boxes for well over a thousand dollars.
“I mean it’s wrong. That’s what companies do,” said Heather Murphy, who lives in Shoreline. She said her parents were trying to find masks online recently, but were not successful.
Amazon is trying to crack down on price gouging. But the shortage is nationwide.
“I’m really hoping that people are over reacting. That this gets contained and it doesn’t become a pandemic,” Murphy said.
A spokesperson from Harborview Medical Center said via text message, “We have appropriate supplies right now, but are being judicious in how we use and are conserving."
Swedish Hospital’s spokesperson also said via text that the hospital’s Chief Quality Officer Dr. Christopher Dale relayed:
“Swedish is closely monitoring and securing our inventory of masks, for Swedish Airborne Infection Isolation rooms, Emergency Departments and Operating Rooms, in an effort to maintain a healthy inventory for potential Coronavirus care needs.”
Washington State’s Department of Health is reminding the public you don’t need a mask to prepare.
“I’m personally not doing that, I’m encouraging my family not to do that, and even here at the DOH we are encouraging the supply to go to the hospitals where people are doing the work of the evaluation,” said Dr. Scott Lindquist, the state’s top epidemiologist.
The CDC and doctors currently do not recommend wearing face masks for the general public to protect from COVID-19.
“A mask is not good if you’re not washing your hands. A mask is not good if it’s not fitted correctly. It needs to be tested. So I would say that for the general population, masks is not where we should focus our prevention efforts. It’s really going back to hand hygiene,” said Dr. Santiago Neme, Medical Director of UWMC Northwest, who is an Infectious Disease Specialist.
The DOH says instead, think about what you would need to do if there is an outbreak. If school is canceled, what will you do for childcare? Will you be able to telecommute? And as always, if you’re sick, stay home.
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