US Surgeon General Urges People To "Stop Buying Masks" As Retailers Warn Of Shortages

The U.S. Surgeon General has urged people to “stop buying masks,” saying on Twitter that they’re not effective in preventing the general public from catching coronavirus.

“The best way to protect yourself and your community is with everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness,” Jerome M. Adams said in a tweet.

Additionally, he encouraged people to get flu shots, saying fewer flu patients means more resources for fighting the virus.

His warning is extremely timely, as we detailed earlier, in mid-January, we noticed rising domestic and international internet searches for "virus mask" and "n-95 mask" amid the spread of Covid-19 in China.

Weeks later, we noted how confirmed cases and deaths in China exponentially soared, resulting in a "global run" on virus masks, specifically 3M N95 masks. From Asia to Europe to the US, mask demand jumped despite mainstream media and the Trump administration keeping quiet about the outbreak in Asia.

By mid-February, the virus had spread to Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Italy, and other parts of Europe, prompting many to believe the early chapters of a pandemic were starting. This forced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week to announce the expected community spread of the virus in the US.

The CDC's latest warning said the virus could cause "significant disruption" to American life, which triggered panic in Hawaii, as residents across several islands rushed to Sam's Club and Costco to buy food, health supplies, and masks if they could even find any. 

Across Amazon, 3M N95 masks have been a hot commodity. Many sellers had "currently unavailable" – as it suggested masks are sold out. The remaining sellers on the e-commerce platform marked up prices nearly 10x in some cases. 

Amazon sellers were also running low on hand sanitizer products, such as Purell, a multi-surface disinfectant spray, that saw a doubling in price over the last week. 

 

"This feels different than the other market crisis in that it involves disruptions to daily life," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "This isn't financial. This is not some obtuse thing on a screen. Schools may close. I may not be able to get pasta or oatmeal."

By Friday, hand sanitizers, face masks and cleaning supplies at CVS, Walgreens, and other pharmacies across the US warned of supply shortages after a jump in demand, likely because the CDC’s warning spooked Americans.

"This demand may cause temporary shortages at some store locations and we re-supply those stores as quickly as possible," a spokesperson for CVS said.

There was undoubtedly a knowledge curve of virus preparation in the US. As to who was buying up all the masks in January remains unseen, but some reports suggested arbitrage, as people bought in bulk and sent masks to Asia for a sizeable markup. 

As confirmed US cases reached 63 on Friday, Bath & Body Works, owned by L Brands, said its hand sanitizer business has been "growing at a very high rate."

Clorox CFO Kevin Jacobsen said earlier this month in a call with analysts that, "We are taking up inventory levels [to] be prepared for the potential increase in demand for some of our bleach products."

Reckitt Benckiser, the manufacturer of Dettol and Lysol, said it had invested into its supply chain to increase the capacity of virus-fighting products to meet demand.

"We're continuing to make capacity investments to ensure that we don't run out at the peak for some of these products that we have that, frankly, consumers demand, and we can't fulfill," said CEO Laxman Narasimhan

Twitter users are documenting the run on virus masks to health products to now food. The great panic of 2020 is underway: