MEDFORD, Ore. — With the prospect of a possible novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the U.S. on the horizon, many people are making their own preparations. In southern Oregon, that translated into a run on N95 respirator masks this week — with many stores sold out by Friday.
"The past couple of days we've run out of masks," said Tyler Quitt from Black Bird Shopping Center in Medford.
Quitt says that he's noticed a spike in face mask sales over the past month. "Yesterday within the first hour of us being open we ran out the of masks that we had available," he said.
"We had a good supply. We've just been . . . every other customer wants masks," said Ron Williams. He's a sales clerk at Drake's Paint and Supply. Williams says the store is getting 20 calls a day from people looking for masks.
There were still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Oregon as of Friday — with the closest known case that of a woman currently being treated at a hospital in Sacramento, California. The Oregon Health Authority says that it has tested two people for the virus, and both tests were negative. 76 people are still being monitored, and two more cases are "under investigation."
NewsWatch 12 contacted more than a dozen stores in the Rogue Valley on Friday. Only one store, Glidden Professional Paint Center in Medford, had enough N95 masks remaining to get through the day. Most stores hope to get a new shipment in by the end of April.
Both Asante Rogue Regional and Providence Medford Medical Center said that they still had masks in supply and were not experiencing a shortage.
The N95 mask has historically been the armor of choice for many southern Oregonians during wildfire season as well. The mask is designed to filter out airborne particulate matter of a certain size, like some of the ash and dust carried by heavy smoke from fires. Masks with this designation are supposed to block "at least 95 percent of very small (0.3 micron) test particles" if properly fitted, according to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not generally recommend facemasks and respirators for use in home or community settings," the FDA said. "However, they may be appropriate for persons at increased risk of severe illness from influenza or other respiratory diseases."
Despite the run on respirators, health authorities at both the state and national level have not issued any explicit recommendations to use them in an effort to avoid getting the virus. Much like the influenza virus, authorities like OHA have continued to advise fairly basic hygiene measures as the best line of defense — washing hands, covering coughs or sneezes, and disinfecting surfaces.