Local stores quickly selling out of face masks as coronavirus concerns grow here in the US

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CLEVELAND (WJW) -- Local stores are selling out of face masks amid concerns over the coronavirus, even as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says healthy people should not wear the masks.

Shelves are empty at many hardware and drug stores where masks are sold.

“We've been out for actually a few weeks now,” said Lakewood Discount Drug Mart Pharmacist Angela Latina. “We got a couple boxes in on Tuesday, and I think they were sold in about 20 minutes.”

She said she’s been fielding questions about coronavirus, also called COVID-19, from customers. Suppliers can’t keep up with demand for masks.

“They're on a bit of a back-order right now, and they're hard to find, but the good news is the CDC doesn't actually recommend face masks for most people,” Latina said.

The World Health Organization and CDC said healthy people should not wear masks unless caring for someone with coronavirus.

Instead, health officials said surgical masks should be worn by people who are coughing and sneezing to stop from spreading droplets.

“This is spread by respiratory droplets, so this keeps that from going out,” said Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio Director of Health.

N95 masks are used medically, must be specially fitted and filter out at least 95 percent of small particles. Acton said state and federal health officials are in discussions with hospitals about how to best conserve the masks.

“These will be the ones that we see a shortage of, and it's really vitally important that we keep them for the medical professionals and the real patients who need them,” Acton said.

Dr. Shanina Knighton, a clinical nurse scientist at Case Western Reserve University, who specializes in infection prevention and control, said people should practice basic precautions, similar to what’s used for the flu and colds.

To stay healthy, Knighton recommended paying attention to what surfaces you touch, staying home when sick, coughing and sneezing into your shoulder or elbow and regularly washing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds.

“We know it is the simple most important way to prevent the spread of germs,” Knighton said.  

If you wear a mask, experts advise to wash your hands before putting it on or taking it off to reduce the risk of spreading germs to your face.

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