Masks in short supply amid coronavirus concerns, but are they helpful?


Nick Vides

To limit sales, Staples customers in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma are no longer able to buy hand sanitizer without speaking to a manager first.

Nick Vides, Staff Reporter

Shelves are barren of masks and disinfectants as the ever-growing fear of COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, has started spreading here in the North Bay.

At the Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Sonoma Staples, signs that say “See manager to order hand sanitizer while supplies last” sit on empty shelves in lieu of actual bottles as stores have run out.

 Near the college, disinfectants and masks are in short supply. CVS’s Santa Rosa location was out of rubbing alcohol and masks as of the afternoon March 5.

At all four Friedman’s Home Improvement locations, employees are limiting mask sales to one box per household to put people over profit.

“We had a customer attempt to order hundreds of masks from us in mid-February from all three Sonoma County locations,” said James Tkacz, store manager of the Sonoma Friedman’s. “When we figured out what he was doing, we did not allow him to purchase an abundance of masks. We then implemented the one-box-per-household policy.

But just how helpful are facemasks? 

The Centers for Disease Control does not recommend healthy people wear facemasks to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19; only those who believe they are infected should use a mask to prevent the spread of their illness.

The World Health Organization agrees with the CDC and adds that if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus infection. If you are wearing a mask, the WHO gives instructions on how to put on and take off a mask should you feel the need to wear one.

There are other, more effective ways, to protect yourself.

Kaiser Permanente recommends you should stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care, in which case it’s important to call before your appointment. Calling ahead helps them direct you to the most appropriate care, and take precautions to protect other members, patients and employees.

The CDC guidelines encourage people to wash your hands as often as possible with soap and water for at least 20 seconds and scrub in between fingers. If soap and water are not available, scrub with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Santa Rosa Junior College’s Student Health Services is providing phone screening for students who are coughing, sneezing or showing other signs of respiratory illness. SHS asks students, faculty and staff to call (707) 527-4445 if they believe they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.