As coronavirus continues to spread across the U.S., with 74 confirmed cases and one death as of Sunday afternoon, worried Americans are stocking up on items like canned food, hand sanitizer and face masks. But one of those items, the surgeon general warned, shouldn’t be bought by anyone who’s healthy.

On Saturday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted an order for Americans not to buy masks if they aren’t sick, explaining that they’re ineffective at preventing people from getting the virus and steal resources away from those who actually need them.

“Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” Adams wrote. “They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!

“The best way to protect yourself and your community is with everyday preventive actions, like staying home when you are sick and washing hands with soap and water, to help slow the spread of respiratory illness,” he continued. “Get your flu shot — fewer flu patients = more resources for COVID-19.”

It’s important for Adams to get this message out, because hardware stores and pharmacies have been reporting a huge increase in mask sales over the past few weeks, with struggles to meet demands leading to price gouging from some online retailers and a 10-per-person limit at Home Depot on the N95 respirator, which the CDC has ordered health care workers to wear. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the U.S. currently has a supply of only 30 million N95s, but would need 300 million in case of a widespread outbreak.

“We’re crazy busy with respirators,” said Marc Jaconksi, a hardware store owner in Philadelphia, to AP. “It’s usually the oldest folks who get a little crazed. This time, it is everybody.”


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