4-State pharmacies experience medical mask shortage amid novel coronavirus fears

CARL JUNCTION, Mo. – The shelf space at CJ Pharmacy where you’d normally find medical masks sits empty. It’s a growing problem across the U.S.

“I spent a good 30 minutes yesterday just searching different suppliers trying to find some masks that were cost-effective and were actually going to help and there are shortages everywhere,” said Mike Humphrey, Pharmacy Mgr. for CJ Pharmacy.Mask

Online, N95 masks, which are supposed to provide the most effective protection, are either unavailable or expensive. A four pack on Amazon costs over $80. Wendell MaskTriplett says he’s not panicking or purchasing a mask yet, but he is keeping an eye on the virus.

“I think if it’s properly handled, that it’s something that’s manageable. The concern that I have is that we manage it in the United States. We’ve gotta take care of our own first,” expressed Triplett, a Carl Junction resident.

Experts say that face masks are geared more towards people who are already infected with the virus, but there are other things that you can do to prevent the spread of germs.

“The same precautions that you would use to avoid getting the cold or the flu apply to the coronavirus, so wash your hands frequently, coughing and sneezing into your arm instead of into your hands and just those standard things that you hear most flu seasons,” said Humphrey.

Health experts want to remind the public to keep things in perspective.

“I think it’s fair to be aware and to be conscious, but if you look at the numbers, like so far this year there’s been over 20 million reports of the flu virus in America, but you don’t hear that being talked about as much compared to the numbers of the coronavirus. Yes, it’s out there and it’s something you need to be aware of and protect your family, but you also need to do the same thing with the flu virus as well,” said Humphrey.

“It is real. It is dangerous, but I think steps are being taken in the United States to protect the rest of us,” said Triplett.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is engaging with federal leadership to maximize the state’s preparedness for the possible spread of COVID-19.

“In joining my fellow state health officers from around the nation this week at the White House to discuss preparations across our country with the acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, I am pleased that our efforts here in Missouri are strategically aligned with our federal and national partners,” said Dr. Randall Williams, DHSS Director. “Prior to the national health emergency being declared on January 31, our incident management team from DHSS had already begun daily meetings (on Jan. 27) as part of our normal preparedness and response duties. Part of our responsibilities also include being an effective liaison to local public health departments who were briefed last week in Jefferson City with the latest information from federal partners.”

State health officials have fielded numerous calls and worked to review information relating to possible cases. To date, more than 60 individuals have been evaluated due to their travel or exposure history or symptoms. A much smaller number of individuals within Missouri have met the CDC’s criteria for persons under investigation (PUI), meaning they have both an exposure history and are symptomatic under CDC guidelines, which are reviewed with CDC to determine testing. Of PUIs in Missouri, none have tested positive for COVID-19 and no tests are currently pending.

Today, the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory was approved by the CDC to begin providing testing. The test uses real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) to detect the virus which causes COVID-19, and it can provide same-day results from when a specimen is received at the laboratory.

“Our Missouri team has been working to educate and collaborate with a robust network of response organizations including the State Emergency Management Agency, all 16 State departments, the Missouri State Public Health Laboratory, clinicians, local public health departments, medical associations, hospital associations, airports, school nurses, student health departments at colleges, and others to provide timely and accurate information in preparation for the possibility of a future positive case,” Dr. Williams indicated. “We are dedicated to continuing to educate Missourians about COVID-19. The risk for infection still remains low, and we will continue to strategically align with all of our partners under our operating principle of hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”

In the midst of a moderately severe flu season, the public health message of DHSS continues to be the importance of using good health practices such as effective hand washing and communicating well with your physicians.

DHSS has established a website at www.health.mo.gov/coronavirus to provide information and links to resources and education material on COVID-19.