n95 mask

Toronto stores are selling out of N95 face masks because of coronavirus

Despite the assurances of public health officials that Toronto residents have little to worry about when it comes to the coronavirus, of which there have been no confirmed cases in Canada, preventative hysteria is already ensuing.

Look no further than your local art supply or hardware store for evidence of this — right where the dust masks are usually found.

Rotblott's Discount Warehouse, which has been selling production supplies, safety gear and more out of a bright yellow store at Adelaide and Bathurst since the 1990's, usually sells about 20 disposable face masks each week, mostly to painters and construction workers.

In the past two days, they've sold nearly 1,000 of them.

Rotblott's store manager Adam Parker says he can't keep the popular N95 fine particulate masks in stock. Nobody can, he says, in light of coronavirus fears.

"The last three days they have been selling out like crazy," said Parker by phone on Friday. "People are coming in and buying them by the case... we are down to the last little bit. My staff have been driving around all day trying to find them."

Parker says that many of the customers he's seen in recent days are Chinese nationals. They've been buying masks by the case (each of which contain 160 units) and actually shipping them to China for friends and relatives.

And Rotblott's is far from alone.

"All of our suppliers are out, nobody can get them," said Parker of the particulate respirators, noting that 3M — the company that makes the standard N95 8210 particulate respirator — has a mandate to hold a certain number of masks at their headquarters in case of an emergency.

"When the SARS outbreak happened 17 years ago, it was the same thing," continued Parker. "They were flying out the door.

Calls placed to two Home Depots and three Home Hardware stores in Toronto confirmed what Parker said: Everybody is sold out of the N95 masks (save for the Home Hardware in Liberty Village, if you're looking.)

Knockoff versions of the mask may be available in some stores, and certainly in hospital waiting rooms, but it's important to note that surgical masks are not the same thing as respirators.

"It's called an N95 because it filters 95 per cent of particulates: physical pieces floating in the air," explained Parker. Surgical masks, on the other hand, provide barrier protection against droplets including large respiratory particles.

"N95 type respirators are the respirators recommended by the Government of Canada and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for use by health care workers in contact with patients with infections that are transmitted from inhaling airborne droplets (e.g., tuberculosis (TB)," writes the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health And Safety.

The CDC says similarly on its website that "surgical masks are not designed for use as particulate respirators and do not provide as much respiratory protection as an N95 respirator."

Lead photo by

Debora Cartagena

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