With the coronavirus outbreak spreading in China and the World Health Organization declaring a global emergency, the biggest threat to the United States. isn’t the eight confirmed cases so far. It’s all the Americans who are hoarding medical and N95 masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus. Hoarding creates shortages and jacks up prices. If hospitals run out of masks and can’t get any more, an outbreak among medical professionals and the general public becomes a serious possibility.
The coronavirus, however, isn’t the biggest health threat to worry about. The regular flu virus had so far infected 19 million people and killed 10,000 people, including 68 children. That’s far more than the 15,000 people infected and the 300 people killed by the coronavirus in China.
You did get your flu shot back in October or September?
This isn’t the first time that we have seen shortages for medical and N95 masks. When smoke from the Camp Fire in Northern California made the air in the San Francisco Bay Area worse than China and India in late 2018, masks of all kinds were sold out locally. The 7-11 down the street from my home sold a ten-pack of dust masks for $2.00. Never mind that dust masks were ineffective against air pollution. Like a security blanket, something was better than nothing. Masks were still available on Amazon for delivery to areas of California that weren’t burning or smoldering.
The coronavirus, however, is sparking panic buying of masks throughout the United States. My local Target store didn’t have any medical masks in stock. If you can find any kind of medical mask on Amazon, expect pay twice the cost at $13 per box and/or wait several weeks for delivery. Amazon is also out of stock of the M3 N95 mask that most medical professionals wear while treating patients. Third-party sellers are selling the masks for $65 USD or higher per box. When I ordered my mine in 2018, they were only $13 USD per box.
Let’s be clear about how effective medical and N95 masks are in preventing the spread of the coronavirus or flu virus. If you’re healthy, the masks won’t prevent you from getting sick. Sooner or later, you will pull the mask aside and touch your face with your unwashed hands that could expose you to the virus. Washing your hands frequently is more protective than wearing a mask.
If you’re sick, the masks will prevent your coughs and sneezes from spreading the virus into the air that could infect other people. Hospitals give out masks to patients to contain their germs and not spread them around the waiting room. Medical professionals wear masks to prevent themselves from getting sick while treating multiple patients. It’s important that hospitals have a reliable supply of masks at an affordable cost.
What makes the coronavirus potentially more dangerous is that an infected person can pass it to other people days before they start exhibiting any flu-like symptoms. A rare form of transmission that health experts haven’t seen in recent flu outbreaks. The coronavirus could become the next Spanish flu. Most people today don’t remember how deadly the Spanish flu was over 100 years ago. The Spanish flu infected 500 million people and probably killed 50 million to 100 million people (three to five percent of the world population).
I have an unpopular opinion that most people don’t care for: humanity is long overdue for a pandemic.
Whenever a specie’s population becomes too big, Mother Nature has several tricks for keeping the population in check. Humanity is expected to have 10 billion to 16 billion people by 2100. The largest population decline will come from old people dying in first-world countries in North America, Europe and parts of Asia. The fastest population growth will come form young people born in third-world countries everywhere else. While modern medicine may have prevented another Spanish flu for a century, a pandemic may be unavoidable, and all those old people will die a lot sooner.
If global warming, rising sea levels and catastrophic wildfires don’t kill them first.