Ottawa pharmacies say they have sold out of surgical masks as concerns about coronavirus have grown, especially among travellers.
Stores that sell painting supplies are also reporting that even painters’ masks are becoming scarce.
Ryan Jarratt, pharmacist and owner of Respect Rx in Bells Corners, said he ran out of face masks on Friday evening. Most of the people buying them were travellers.
“Everything just disappeared on Thursday and Friday,” said Jarratt, who usually orders a supply of face masks for customers who request them during flu season.
“I think people just wanted to take precautions for travel.”
He has tried to reorder, but one warehouse said the product wouldn’t be available until Feb. 17. Another company would take his order, but had no date for availability.
“I’m usually able to get them within a week or a couple of days,” said Jarratt, who noted that the cost of face masks being sold on Amazon have climbed over the weekend.
According to the U.S. National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the N95 respirator is the most common of the seven types of particulate filtering face-piece respirators. These filter at least 95 per cent of airborne particles, but are not resistant to oil.
As of Monday morning Flu Armour, a U.S-based supplier of influenza-response equipment, had eight different types of face masks and four different kinds of N95 respirators in stock, but warned that “due to the coronavirus outbreak and high demand, product availability is limited. Please allow 24 to 48 hours for shipping.”
Meanwhile, stores that sell painting supplies have also noticed an increase in demand for N95 masks.
Preston Hardware owner Johnny Giannetti said he still had some painters’ masks and had reordered, but it is hard to get inventory. “I have some coming, but they’re not sure how much they can allocate to me.”
At Hampton Paints, Mike Fenton said painters’ masks are typically used to prevent the inhalation of dust particles.
“I had a bunch over the weekend. And now I’m sold out of them.”
On its website, Flu Armour said not all N95 masks are equal and its N95 respirators for medical use have passed stringent fluid resistance testing. “This is widely considered critical since airborne viruses transfer as fluid droplets.”
However, according to Ottawa Public Health, surgical masks are not recommended for protection for people who are not ill outside of healthcare settings, such as the general public.
“In healthcare settings, personal protective equipment, which may include face masks, are used because of the close contact with those who are ill. The type of personal protective equipment used depends on the situation.”
In the case of N95 respirators, proper fit-testing and training is required. “There are risks of using personal protective equipment without proper training,” said a spokeswoman for Ottawa Public Health in response to questions from this newspaper.
For those with symptoms such as coughing or sneezing, covering the face may reduce spread to others, said Ottawa Public Health.
“Surgical masks may have some benefit in reducing the spread of infection when worn during an illness, especially when seeking healthcare, such as waiting rooms at doctors’ offices. However, we do not specifically recommend that members of the public purchase masks.”
Ottawa Public Health recommends that people wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer; cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue or an arm, not a hand, and stay home if sick. Those who are ill with a respiratory illness and must visit a healthcare provider should call ahead or tell the provider upon arrival and wear a mask while waiting to be seen.
Currently, only those who become ill within 14 days of having visited Wuhan, China, or have been in close contact with someone who has a respiratory illness who has been to Wuhan (within 14 days prior to their illness onset) are considered at risk for coronavirus infection, according to Ottawa Public Health.
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