Surgical face masks hard to find in Vancouver stores over fear of coronavirus outbreak

The global coronavirus medical emergency has caused a run on face masks that has led to a virtual citywide sellout and some retailers unable to replenish stocks.

Jin Kim, who works at Sandy Farm Market, was able to get ahold of a paper disposable mask for her shift handling the fruits and vegetables at the small Kerrisdale shop on Friday.

“I want to protect myself,” she said. “I’m a cancer patient, so I can’t get sick.”

Asked if she thinks it protects her against the coronavirus, which has sickened thousands and killed hundreds, she laughed and said she didn’t think so.

A coworker, who didn’t want his name used, was loading produce on the shelves also wearing a mask, along with half the store’s staff.

“I wear it to protect me and I wear it to protect (the customers), it’s both,” he said. “Some of them say I like that you’re wearing it.”

Around the corner from the produce store, the London Drugs outlet posted a sign at the pharmacy lineup: “We are currently sold out of masks.”

At a nearby Shoppers Drug Mart, staff said no masks and no hope of getting more because the warehouses are also sold out.

And a Pure Pharmacy on Vancouver’s West Side, which had sold a Sun reader five disposal paper masks in a ziplock baggie for $7.99 on Wednesday, had none in stock on Friday with no prospects for more, a staffer said.

Vancouver General Hospital ER has a sign posted requesting anyone with symptoms to wear a mask while at the hospital. A week ago, there was a stack of the disposal paper versions on the counter, but on Friday a nurse said she would dispense one only to people who need it.

A Pharmasave store in Kerrisdale on Friday was selling N95 masks, which offer the best filtration of fine particulates, for $30 for two and $85 for a box of 10. Some London Drugs outlets had masks for sale, and various masks could be found on online classified sites.

But there were reports the large online retailers had run out of stock mid-week, and that prompted a warning from the Better Business Bureau serving Mainland B.C.

“This trending demand may spiral scammers, fly-by-nighters and shady businesses to take advantage of consumers,” said spokeswoman Karla Laird in a release.

“Consumers need to be on the lookout for fake websites harvesting credit card information, sponsored ads posted by fraudsters that offer prices that are too good to be true, deceptive posts disguising malicious links, and fake social media business profiles that take your money and give you nothing in return.”

Know the advertiser, protect your personal information, do your research, and think before clicking on a link, she said.

Canadian health officials stress the risk of contracting the coronavirus is low, despite confirmation of several cases in Canada.

While a drug store mask won’t protect against a virus transmitted through the air, they can stop transmission of tiny droplets expelled by a cough or sneeze. But without a proper hermetic seal, small drops can still escape.

Doctors instead recommend frequent handwashing, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and discarding tissues after blowing your nose and then washing your hands. Avoid touching your mouth or nose so as not to transmit pathogens to your hands.

Doctors also warn of the risk of someone else putting on a mask that has been used by a sick person if it’s not immediately discarded after use.

slazaruk@postmedia.com

— with file from National Post

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