It seems the surgeon general has had it. And he has a simple request for Americans: Stop buying face masks. He was so serious about that message that he wrote it in all caps. “Seriously people,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams wrote on Twitter, “STOP BUYING MASKS!” Adams went on to note that masks are “NOT effective” for the general public and the demand from those who don’t need it puts healthcare providers at risk.
In a subsequent tweet, Adams said that the best thing people can do to protect themselves from the coronavirus is to wash their hands regularly and stay home if they are feeling sick. Adams is hardly alone in his sentiment. Vice President Mike Pence espoused much the same message during a White House briefing alongside President Donald Trump. “The president mentioned masks,” Pence said. “This morning we talked a great deal about additional medical supplies. Let me be very clear, and I’m sure the physicians who are up here will reflect this as well: The average American does not need to go out and buy a mask.”
Healthcare professionals and government officials around the world have been calling on people to stop buying masks as some are taking advantage of the situation and sharply increasing prices, particularly on N95 masks. A 10-pack of those masks that sold for $18.20 a month ago now costs $99.99 on Amazon, notes CBS News. Other retailers that sell for far lower prices are largely out of stock. In Italy, Milan’s deputy chief prosecutor said officials had decided to open an investigation amid reports of severe price gouging. “We have decided to open an investigation after media reports of the insane prices fetched up by these products on online sales websites in the last two days,” Tiziana Siciliano told Reuters.
The World Health Organization has also warned of a decrease in supply. “There are severe strains on protective equipment around the world,” said Dr. Michael J. Ryan, executive director of the health emergency program at the World Health Organization, during a briefing on Friday. “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.” But despite all the warnings and assurances that they are ineffective for regular people, it seems unlikely to decrease demand since going out to buy masks is more about psychology. “The coronavirus is coming, and we feel rather helpless,” William Schaffner, a preventive medicine professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told CNN. “By getting masks and wearing them, we move the locus of control somewhat to ourselves.”
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