March 28, 2020

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Medical mask sales skyrocket due to coronavirus concerns

Medical masks are flying off store shelves as panicked Winnipeggers are stocking up in the mistaken belief the masks will protect them from the deadly coronavirus.

Many medical supply shops and drug stores across the city are sold out and on back order.

Shop owners are citing the new coronavirus as the main reason people are buying the masks in bulk. On Monday, it was announced Canadian health officials are treating Canada’s first diagnosed cases of coronavirus in Toronto.

For Northland Healthcare Products Limited, the hype for masks began on Friday. The medical retailer sold 100 boxes of their ear-loop masks and N95 masks between Friday and Monday.

The ear-loop masks should be re-stocked later next week, but Northland employees don’t know when they’ll see more N95 masks — there’s a manufacturer back-order, and hospitals will get the masks first.

Many people bought masks to send to China, an employee at Northland Healthcare Products Limited said. However, not all mask purchases were linked to the coronavirus, she said, noting some clinics were stocking up.

Stevens Home Medical Supplies Store sold hundreds of masks, and now they’re sold out, too, an employee said. They hope to restock within two weeks.

People wanting to buy a mask from Shoppers Drug Mart will have a hard time finding one. The McPhillips Street location sold out of all-purpose masks, and employees said Shoppers Drug Marts throughout Winnipeg faced the same problem.

The owner of Shoppers Drug Mart’s McPhillips Street location has bought two shipments of masks, and they should arrive in store Wednesday or Thursday, employees said.

Rane Fauni walked out of Shoppers Drug Mart on McPhillips Street empty-handed after not finding a mask.

"We were expecting more," he said. "There’s so much here."

Fauni is worried about the new coronavirus. He thought the mask would help prevent him from getting sick, he said.

"I don’t want to get sick, and I don’t want to get others sick," Fauni said.

However, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the Toronto General Hospital, said the benefits of proper masks worn by hospital staff are largely lost when applied to the sort available at local drug stores.

Bogoch said such masks may offer an additional layer of protection if worn by someone who is already infected, but they have limited value for healthy members of the public.

Dr. Sohail Gandhi, president of the Ontario Medical Association, agrees, noting early data on the new form of virus suggests masks won’t be especially effective.

"Handwashing is more effective than face masks with this particular virus, particularly if you’re not infected," Gandhi said.

Handwashing, covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and thoroughly cooking meat and eggs are ways to prevent being infected by a coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization’s website.

— With files from the Canadian Press

city.desk@freepress.mb.ca

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Community Correspondent — Headingley

Gabrielle Piché is a community correspondent for Headingley. Email her at gabriellepiche15@gmail.com

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