Local News

As coronavirus concerns spread, Triangle residents finding it harder to find face masks

Posted February 1, 2020 10:18 p.m. EST
Updated February 2, 2020 9:28 a.m. EST

— With an eighth case of the coronavirus confirmed in the United States — this time in Massachusetts — concerns about the virus are spreading.

Public health officials said Saturday the patient is a 20-year-old student who recently returned to the United States from Wuhan, China, the source of the coronavirus outbreak. Worldwide, around 10,000 people are said to be infected with the virus.

Here in the Triangle, concerns about the virus have created a mass shortage of face masks. It's a problem that's being seen in other parts of the country and world, too.

Drugstores like Walgreens are running out of masks because fear of coronavirus is driving the demand.

We found an empty shelf where faces masks are usually stored at the Walgreens on Hillandale Street in Durham. And another empty shelf at Durham’s Medical Supply Superstore. An employee told WRAL the store sold out of 200 boxes.

"With the coronavirus coming about now, I think it's not bad to be too cautious," said Sylvia Watson-Williams, a nursing aide. "So I think better safe than sorry."

It’s a reality affecting stores nationwide as the coronavirus outbreak spreads beyond China. Watson-Williams’s nursing background helps her understand how severe the disease has become.

"It can affect your upper respiratory system," Watson-Williams said. "But if affects it in a much stronger way and much stronger than a normal flu."

However, medical experts we spoke with say their effectiveness against this illness is limited.

The CDC is not recommending the use of face masks to protect against respiratory illness. It recommends masks for healthcare workers, and people who are sick, to keep from spreading germs. Top health officials says the best way to avoid getting sick is washing your hands regularly throughout the day.

It's a practice Watson-Williams lives by.

"Disinfecting is definitely the key," Watson-Williams said.

Dr. Allen G. Mask, MD, told WRAL while the face masks are limited in effectiveness, it’s still a good precaution. He warned the flu is currently a bigger concern in our area.

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