The BBC reported that the masks began selling out in Seattle, where the first reported case of coronavirus was reported in the U.S. The outlet said other cities like New York, Washington D.C. and Los Angeles have had similar reports.
“I immediately ordered a box of masks online after I heard of the first US case,” said Tina Liu, a Chinese student at the University of Washington, not far from Seattle.
The virus has killed 80 people in China and infected thousands, sending authorities scrambling to contain the outbreak. Wuhan, the city where it began, has been effectively quarantined along with 17 other cities, impacting China’s economy and 50 million people directly.
Five cases have been reported in the U.S. American health officials said there are 110 people under investigation across 26 states as the outbreak continues.
While the masks are the most visible precaution during outbreaks, they aren’t the most helpful, according to health experts.
“There’s little harm in it,” Eric Toner, a scientist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Business Insider. “But it’s not likely to be very effective in preventing it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the best precautions are to wash your hands with soap and water, avoid close contact with people who are sick and clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
On Monday, the State Department upgraded its travel advisory for Americans traveling to China, urging them to reconsider their plans. The agency said it will evacuate all non-essential U.S. personnel and their families from Wuhan on Wednesday.
Some U.S. citizens will also be evacuated, the State Department said. All passengers will be screened for coronavirus symptoms before being allowed to depart China.
The coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, began at an animal and seafood market in the city of Wuhan and has since spread to several other countries, including the United States. The illness is now said to be transferable between humans.
As news of the virus spread and death tolls began to spike, many have begun to question how dangerous the new outbreak is. Coronaviruses, which get their name from their crown-like appearance, come in many types that cause illnesses in people and animals.
Most coronaviruses cause mild symptoms such as the common cold that patients easily recover from. Other strains of the virus such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) can cause pneumonia and possible death.
SARS killed 770 of 8,000 people infected in 2002-2003. MERS killed about three or four out of every 10 people infected, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
In an effort to curb the spread of the disease, the city of Wuhan shut down all air and train traffic to contain it. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Jan. 22 it would hold off on declaring a public health emergency of global concern.
“The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted.