In light of coronavirus epidemic, people stocking up on masks leaving shelves empty

Local News

No confirmed cases of the virus so far in Hawaii, still, that hasn’t stopped people from stocking up on masks. But do they really protect you? One doctor tells us masks are 50 to 60 percent effective but at certain stores they’re 100 percent sold out.

If you’re looking to buy a mask, especially the coveted N95, you may be hard-pressed to find one. Shoppers are finding empty shelves at some of the drugstores and City Mill.

“Customers have been coming in asking for the N95 mask which is what I’m assuming they are needing for the coronavirus,” said City Mill Store Manager Randy Asuncion. “Hoping by next week sometime we’ll have more stock coming in but it depends on our distributor, we were told, who is completely out.”

But just how effective are masks?

“There hasn’t been a lot of studies done on the masks and there are a lot of factors involving the use of the masks,” said Dr. Robert Ruggieri, Queen’s Island Urgent Care Medical Director.

Dr. Ruggieri says masks prevent you from touching your face which is one of the quickest ways to get sick. But it’s only 50 to 60, maybe 70 percent effective at best.

“It’s not a secure fit. There are ways for air particles containing viruses to sneak in under the mask and through the mask. The mask is not impermeable to viruses, they are very small,” he explains.

That’s why people prefer to get the N95 respirator mask. Dr. Ruggieri says they work best if N95 masks are fitted by a trained respiratory professional.

“The N95 is a custom fit mask basically we don’t use those in our clinic. It requires a special custom fit and certain people are trained in using those masks and fitting people for those masks so they are more commonly used in hospitals and other medical situations but not for the general public,” said Dr. Ruggieri.

Dr. Ruggieri says if you have a mask, use it. A mask may offer some resistance.

“If a family member is sick, try to isolate them as best you can and have them cover their mouth or nose when they cough or sneeze, or wash your hands a lot and that would just do as good as a mask.”

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