"If healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk," said U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams

By Claudia Harmata
March 02, 2020 01:09 PM
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Over the weekend, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams urged the public to stop purchasing face masks amid the growing coronavirus outbreak, warning that the masks won’t protect from potential contamination and that the decrease in supply is putting healthcare providers at risk.

“Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!” he shared on Twitter Saturday.

He later added, “The best way to protect yourself and your community is with everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness. Get your #FluShot– fewer flu patients = more resources for #COVID19.”

Other healthcare officials agree that there is little a mask can do to prevent falling ill with the coronavirus, as people are more likely to contract the virus by touching a contaminated surface.

“There is no role for these masks in the community,” Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said last week, per The New York Times. “These masks need to be prioritized for health care professionals that as part of their job are taking care of individuals.”

The plea comes amid several reports of a global shortage of the medical masks, which are needed by healthcare workers in their everyday duties while caring for sick patients.

“There are severe strains on protective equipment around the world,” Dr. Michael J. Ryan, executive director of the health emergency program at the World Health Organization, told reporters on Friday, according to The Times.

“Our primary concern is to ensure that our front line health workers are protected and that they have the equipment they need to do their jobs,” he added.

Credit: AIZAR RALDES/AFP via Getty

China — where the deadly disease originated and has made the biggest impact — is the world’s largest producer of face masks, according to Time. The country’s output has expectedly decreased amid the outbreak, and the effects are being felt by retailers across continents as panicked consumers are flooding to their local stores and online outlets, buying out the available supply.

Prestige Ameritech, the largest surgical mask manufacturer in the U.S., has completely sold out of their products, and issued a statement on their website claiming that “due to high demand from our hospital customers, we are no longer able to add more products to this store.”

Meanwhile, CVS, Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart have run out of masks made by 3M, according to CBS.

Credit: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto/Getty

“We cant get them anymore; they are out of stock at the warehouse,” Aimee Hart a local drugstore owner in Cincinnati, Ohio, told local ABC News affiliate WCPO.

The shortage has additionally caused price gouging, CBS reported.

Mike Bowen, the executive vice president of Prestige Ameritech, told The Times that anyone can typically buy two for “the price of a gumball. However, some Amazon merchants are taking advantage of the shortage and selling masks for significantly higher prices.

Amazon said they have since removed tens of thousands of deals from sellers who they found were not adhering to their “fair pricing” guidelines.

“We have absolutely enforced the policy,” an Amazon spokesperson told CBS. “We identify them and quickly take action.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

As of Monday, there are a total of 88 confirmed cases in the U.S., with two deaths, both older adults with underlying health problems.