As demand for N95 respiratory masks spikes due to an increase in coronavirus cases around the world, local workers and hardware stores are struggling to get their hands on more masks.
A disposable N95 mask is a safety device that covers the nose and mouth and helps protect the wearer from breathing in hazardous substances.
“For the past, I’d say, three weeks or so, basically we’ve been wiped out," said Scott Strahl, a steel specialist at Miner's Hardware Store in San Luis Obispo. "The warehouses are wiped out and we are not expecting any for another few weeks.”
Strahl said people have been coming in on a daily basis, about four or five times a day, asking if there are any N95 masks in stock.
The masks are not expected to be back in stock until mid-March, according to store employees.
However, San Luis Obispo County health officials said N95s must be fitted and worn correctly, changed frequently and removed safely to work effectively. There is little evidence that wearing N95 respirators are beneficial from their use outside of the clinical setting, health officials said.
Local health officers are advising people to focus on washing hands frequently rather than buying these masks.
Some locals said they use the masks for work purposes and are really struggling without having the ability to buy the masks locally.
Yvette Stansel is a nail technician at The BladeRunner Salon & Day Spa in downtown San Luis Obispo and said she uses the masks to protect her lungs from the fine particles while she is working on gel manicures on her clients.
She said she would typically use three to four masks a week, but has been forced to use the same mask the past two weeks due to the shortage around town.
“I’ve looked online, I’ve gone on amazon and several are out of stock or the prices are sky rocketed,” said Stansel.
It is recommended customers call their local hardware store to double check the store's N95 mask inventory before heading out.
However earlier this month, health officials with San Luis Obispo County Public Health say there are no reported cases of coronavirus and the risk for residents is very low.