San Francisco Walgreens Stores Report Panicky City Residents Have Bought Up Supply of Air Filtration Masks

Categories: Business, Health
It may help you win the Cobra Commander look-alike contest, but will it stave off Swine Flu?
In San Francisco, Walgreens may be even more ubiquitous than sourdough bread. And yet, thanks to Swine Flu-related purchasing binges, you'd be hard-pressed to find any air filtration masks in the drugstores' aisles.

"Everyone wants them -- the whole free world practically," said one Walgreen's employee -- who reported that frustrated customers have resorted to buying bandanas and cloths and leave the store with them wrapped around their faces.

SF Weekly dialed around a fifth of the store's 60-plus Walgreens. Air filtration masks -- which retail for $2.99 if you buy the 3M model or $4.99 for two for the more economically minded panicking shopper -- are all but gone.

"Even our suppliers are out of stock at the moment," says another Walgreens worker. Most of the Walgreens we contacted hoped they'd have some masks in stock by Saturday -- but, since everyone and their Uncle Steve is putting in orders with suppliers, that's no sure thing. One employee's inventory search showed no Walgreens in the city have any masks in stock.

And yet, our call to the Walgreens at 1363 Divisadero struck gold -- or, rather, masks. If you must have one, go there -- now.

Of course, this run on air filtration masks necessitates the question "Can walking around in public looking like Michael Jackson actually keep me from getting swine flu?" The answer:

Not really.

If an infected person coughs, sneezes, or spits in your face, a mask might "slow" your contraction of the disease. But flu bacteria are small enough to wriggle through a mask. So it won't help in the long run. And if you touch the exterior of the mask and then touch your eyes, nose, or ears -- you're sunk. Unless you want to replace your mask every day, you're likely not doing yourself any good. 

There are high-quality, individually fitted masks that can prevent the spread of the flu virus -- but you're not finding them at Walgreens, regardless of what's in stock.

Photo   |   Arthur Warrington Thomas

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