Pharmacists Report Surgical Masks Selling Out Due to Coronavirus Concern


The survey, administered by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), aimed to evaluate how pharmacists and their patients are handling concerns about 2019-nCoV.

A new survey suggests that patients are more worried about the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) than pharmacists, and that concern has surgical masks selling out at pharmacies across the country. In the national survey of 124 community pharmacists, over 96% of respondents said they are experiencing a short supply of face masks.1

The survey, administered by the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), aimed to evaluate how pharmacists and their patients are handling concerns about 2019-nCoV.1

In a press briefing on Thursday, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom, PhD, said the best preventative measures are still basic hygiene—frequent hand washing and covering your mouth with your elbow when coughing or sneezing.2

As of Thursday morning, there have been 28,060 2019-nCoV cases in China, and 564 deaths attributed to the virus. Outside of China, there are 225 cases in 24 countries, and there has been 1 death.2

“It’s hard to believe that just 2 months ago this virus was unknown to us,” Adhanom said in the press briefing.2

There have been many encouraging steps, Adhanom added, including genetic sequencing of 2019-nCoV, and the rapid development of tests. Still, there are many things still unknown about the virus. Adhanom said the international health community is still working to understand its transmissibility and severity, as well as the source of the outbreak.2

By Wednesday evening, there were just 11 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV, and 76 pending cases in the United States,3 but the NCPA report revealed that the public is extremely concerned. Just 32% of pharmacists said they believed the virus is a significant threat to public health in the US, compared to 54% of their patients.1

Pharmacists said their patients are reacting by purchasing infection protection gear from the pharmacies, including surgical masks (62.9%), respirator masks (21%), surface sanitizers (24.2%), hand sanitizers (41.9%), and gloves (18.5%). Just 29.8% of pharmacists said their patients were purchasing none of these products.1

As a result of the rush to purchase protective gear, pharmacists also reported shortages of these items. Specifically, 96.1% said they have a shortage on gloves, 38.2% have a shortage on respirator masks, 5.3% have a shortage on surface sanitizers, 7.9% have a shortage on hand sanitizers, and 7.9% have a shortage on gloves.1

In a prepared statement, President of NCPA Brian Caswell, RPh, said urged the public not to panic about 2019-nCoV.4

“It’s wise to be prepared, but there’s no reason for Americans to panic,” Caswell said. “The flu kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. Only a handful of Americans have been diagnosed with coronavirus in this country, and there are not yet any fatalities.”4


  • Report for How are you and your patients reacting to Coronavirus? National Community Pharmacists Association, February 6, 2020. Accessed February 6, 2020.
  • World Health Organization press briefing; February 6, 2020. Accessed February 6, 2020.
  • 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the U.S. CDC website; Updated February 5, 2020. Accessed February 6, 2020.
  • Coronavirus Causing a Run on Masks, National Pharmacy Survey Shows [news release]. Alexandra, VA; February 6, 2020. NCPA website, Accessed February 6, 2020.

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