Surgical Masks Fly Off NYC Shelves as Four in State Get Tested for Coronavirus

With concern of the virus spreading, NYC pharmacies are starting to run out of the masks due to increased demand — and some people even sending them back to China for relatives

NBCUniversal, Inc.

What to Know

  • More than two dozen people have died from the new coronavirus and hundreds have been infected in China
  • Currently, there have been two confirmed cases in the United States -- one in Washington state and one in Chicago
  • Symptoms of the coronavirus include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general feeling of being unwell.

With the coronavirus beginning to spread in the U.S. — including another confirmed case in Chicago and four patients being tested in New York — it should come as no surprise people are doing whatever they can to protect themselves from the virus that has already killed more than two dozen in China.

That includes stocking up on surgical masks, and stores across the city are already seeing their supplies dwindling.

Although no confirmed cases have popped up in New York City, it appears residents and tourists are not taking any chances. Pharmacies in Chinatown and Chelsea have already reported being totally sold out of the surgical masks, and say they can't even get more.

"There are a lot of Asian customers coming in, tourists coming in also buying masks," said Manhattan pharmacist Tony Tong. "We only have one box left, our wholesalers are out. We have two wholesalers, and they're both out."

One Chinatown pharmacy has been selling out of the masks everyday, and is charging $2 per mask — or $30 for the box. Several pharmacies around the city told NBC New York once word of the coronavirus spread, the demand increased.

The four in new York are part of the more than 60 patients nationwide who are being monitored for possibly having the virus that has killed more than two dozen in China. NBC New York’s Jamie Roth reports.

Multiple chain pharmacies ordinarily carrying the masks have empty shelves, with one pharmacy technician saying some customers are buying large quantities of the masks just to send home to relatives, because China is experiencing an ever deeper shortage.

Dr. Peter Shearer, the Chief Medical Officer at Mount Sinai - Brooklyn, said common sense prevention is key in stopping the spread of any virus, and said it would take more than just surgical masks to totally prevent catching the illness.

"They'll be mildly effective, I mean they'll be important and if you're going to wear them, certainly this time of year there's more flu virus around, and they'll be a little effective with that," Shearer said.

Four people in New York are being tested and in isolation for possible coronavirus infection, Gov. Cuomo's office announced Friday.

Their cases are still being tested at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but as of Friday afternoon, one had already come back negative. The other three tests are still pending.

There was no immediate information on where the cases were located. The news comes as the CDC announced the second confirmed novel coronavirus case in the United States -- this time in Chicago. The first case was confirmd in Washington state. Both victims had recently traveled to China's affected Wuhan area, which appears to be ground zero for the outbreak. Already, 26 people have died and hundreds have been sickened.

The mayor of New York City, health officials and emergency officials will hold a meeting to craft a plan to deal with a new virus -- that has already killed 26 people and sickened hundreds in China -- if it were to arrive in the city. NBC New York's Myles Miller reports.

"This virus is being carefully monitored at federal, state and city levels to ensure the public's health and safety, and while awareness is important, the current risk to New Yorkers is low," New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said in a statement. "People who have traveled abroad recently and have symptoms that mimic the flu should see their doctor. We are working closely with the Centers for Disease Control to receive daily updates and stand ready to assist."

Symptoms of the coronavirus include runny nose, headache, cough, sore throat, fever and a general feeling of being unwell. A patient in New Jersey was recently tested but that test also came back negative for coronavirus.

In New York City, Mayor de Blasio, health officials and emergency officials held a meeting Friday to craft a plan to deal with a new virus. JFK Airport is already among the nation's hubs screening people before they get off planes. All city hospitals and health providers are now trained to identify symptoms and evaluate patients who may present symptoms. The city says it has also established transport protocols for people who appear symptomatic. There are also infection prevention and control measures in place at all city hospitals, as well as instructions on specimen collection.

"We drill all of our hospitals on what we call 'mystery patients' that may come in with respiratory illnesses, to make sure they’re all on the same level of readiness," said NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

So far, the virus has spread to 16 countries. While concerns have been mounting, the World Health Organization decided Thursday against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. That could change, of course.

As new cases of the coronavirus are reported around the world, a doctor explains where the 2019 Novel Coronavirus comes from and what you can do to protect yourself from the outbreak.

The State Department has also issued a level 4 travel warning for Hubei province, warning Americans to not travel to the area.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
Contact Us