Because of the Coronavirus epidemic in China, masks are selling out everywhere. I heard that news and supposed that surgical masks were in demand.
This weekend BabyBro visited for his Christmas present: a ticket to a musical in nearby theatre. Before he arrived, he asked if I happened to have any dust-filtering masks he could have. He needs them for spring gardening due to high pollen.
“Sure! How many do you need?”
“Two. I can’t find them anywhere.”
Now, it’s not unusual in my family to “shop at the family store” aka ask relatives if they can give you a spare doodad or let you borrow an unused thingamajig. I’m not sure how it works in other families, but our store is open to second-cousins-thrice-removed and “sales” are limited by an unspoken yet well-understood anti-mooching rule.*
But BabyBro’s I can’t find them anywhere surprised me.
You see, my siblings live in hustle-and-bustle, 24-hour-shopping areas with strip-mall-lined highways coming and going. He can’t find masks there? Even worse, he noted that mine are “nicer” than the simple elastic-around-the-ears kind he normally gets; he couldn’t find either kind.
My masks are disposable N95 respirators, which filter at least 95% of 0.3 micron particles. Through trial and error, I found them to work well against mold spores in the garden and to be relatively inexpensive (a 10-pack lasts two years or more). They are available in every hardware and home improvement store, even here in the hinterland.
Or so I thought.
A quick online query of inventories in nearby stores – including ones an hour’s drive away – directed me to contact stores with limited stock… 10 miles or more away! The only in-stock local masks were reusable half-face respirators sold in cases of 10, costing $260 or more.
I still have five N95 masks left from last year’s package plus five “freebies” the seller threw in when I recently bought safety goggles. I have enough for a year, even if China-based sales reduce exportable stock.
Which is great, because Amazon lists a single mask for… $75. Ouch.
Perhaps I should have foreseen this. It seems any time there’s a perceived threat of disaster – a blizzard, for example – people will buy up necessities. (Note: My nephew who moved from Michigan to North Carolina was amazed by the milk-bread-toiletpaper madness. He thought that was just a stereotype about Southerners’ reactions to snow.)
The next time I talk to my parents, I’ll have to ask if they want some from the family store!
*The Here-you-go! discount is my favorite: A relative finds a great deal and shares the wealth. When I was sharing my first apartment and trying to make ends meet, my aunt found a close-out on animal-print hairdryers. I and my roommate were so thankful!