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High demand for face masks affecting Milwaukee area pharmacies, stores

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MILWAUKEE COUNTY, Wis (CBS 58) --  With now more than 24,000 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, face masks are in high demand. The demand is now affecting Milwaukee-area retailers and pharmacies.

If you go into Home Depot in West Allis, you’ll see signs on the registers and shelves that limit how many face masks customers are allowed to buy.  A worker inside tells CBS 58 some people have tried to buy cases of them, others wanting to send face masks to China.

A Home Depot spokesperson says it’s happening across the U.S.

“In the U.S. we’re seeing increased demands for face masks and have limited purchase quantity to 10 per person so we can best serve as many customers as possible,” said Margaret Smith, a Home Depot spokesperson.

The shortage is making it hard for area pharmacies to get face masks.

“I have five boxes of 100 left,” said John Warzyn, Inventory Manager at Hayat Pharmacy.

Milwaukee-based Hayat Pharmacy, with 17 locations in the area, says face masks are practically unattainable.

“Through various wholesalers that I deal with, they have zero in stock or else they’re not shipping to retail outlets,” added Warzyn.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee city leaders say it’s not the coronavirus people in the U.S. should be worried about.

”We haven’t seen the coronavirus here, but we certainly want people to know the flu is an issue for us,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Mayor Barrett says from September to January there were more than 280 hospitalizations because of the flu.

“It’s not too late to get your flu shot,” he added.

The city’s health department says like the flu, coronavirus spreads through coughs and sneezes, but experts say regular face masks won’t fully protect you from the flu or the coronavirus. People with symptoms should be the ones wearing them.

“It doesn’t form a seal around the nose or the mouth, so there’s still a way of germs potentially getting through,” said Lucina Balistriere, a pharmacist at Hayat Pharmacy.

Instead, the Centers for Disease Control says people should wash their hands for at least 20 seconds, disinfect surfaces and cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue to avoid respiratory viruses like the flu and coronavirus from spreading.

“The masks are more for if someone’s really coughing, just to try to keep that within the mask,” adds Balistriere.

Home Depot says they do not know how long the face mask limits will be in place for, but supply chain teams are working hard to get more in stock.

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