There are no lines winding around the block or manic crowds, but store managers on Oahu report that face masks, particularly N95 masks, are selling out as quickly as they come in, leaving their shelves empty.
As fears over the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, grow and the number of cases continues to rise in South Korea, Italy and other parts of the world, Hawaii residents and visitors are sweeping stores of N95 masks locally.
“We are out,” said Dave Purington, director of merchandising for Hardware Hawaii. “Ordinarily, we’ll get a shipment in, and we don’t have to order another one for as long as three weeks. Now we’re ordering every week and told we’re short.”
The demand began a few weeks ago, at about the time news of the outbreak came out, he said, One customer walked into the Kailua store and bought 20 boxes, which contain 20 masks each. He wanted to purchase 50 boxes, but the store limited him to 20.
Purington said the supply of several types of N95 masks has been wiped out at all three of Hardware Hawaii’s Oahu locations: Kailua, Mapunapuna and Kapolei. At the Kailua store, visitors from Japan have walked in, as well, searching for the masks.
To date, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Hawaii, according to the state Department of Health.
As of Monday no one in Hawaii was under investigation or quarantine. One individual under mandatory quarantine after travel to Hubei province in China completed 14 days with no symptoms Saturday.
Additionally, Thursday was the last day anyone exposed to the Japanese man who traveled to Maui and Oahu from Jan. 28 to Feb. 6, before being diagnosed with COVID-19 upon his return to Japan, would be expected to show symptoms, the department said.
“At this time, there is no indication of transmission of illness related to the visitor from Japan who traveled to Hawaii,” the Health Department said.
To date, no one in Hawaii has been tested for the coronavirus, the department said, because no one has met the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for testing.
CDC is working on new test kits to send to numerous states, including Hawaii, after ones with faulty control equipment were initially sent out. It is estimated that Hawaii will be able to conduct its own testing in early to mid-March.
Hawaii has offered to be a beta-tester for the new kits, which would give the state earlier access to the testing process.
U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz are urging CDC to make Hawaii a top priority for testing kits and preparedness.
Hirono said she wanted to ensure there is adequate funding for any emergency response from Hawaii, and also would like to see a “coronavirus czar” overseeing and coordinating efforts across all agencies.
“I’d say adequate test kits should be a high priority for any state that wants it,” said Hirono, “but because of our distance and unique situation, I’d like Hawaii to be head of the list.”
Schatz said it was unacceptable for Hawaii to wait another three weeks to receive a test kit that works, and that he was working with CDC to see whether partners in Japan could provide additional test kits.
“We need these test kits immediately, and the fact that they didn’t work in the first place is an abomination, so we need to do everything we can to get functional test kits into Honolulu,” Schatz told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
In the meantime 58 people in Hawaii are self-monitoring themselves under the department’s supervision — 52 from Oahu, four from Hawaii island, one from Maui and one from Kauai.
Globally, confirmed cases continue to rise, at last count to more than 79,000, with a death toll of more than 2,600. The White House on Monday unveiled a $2.5 billion plan to address the deadly outbreak.
While there is no widespread panic-buying evident in Hawaii, consumers are quietly buying up face masks.
At City Mill, marketing manager Shannan Okinishi said the store is limiting purchases of N95 face masks to 10, or to one multipack per customer, while awaiting new shipments.
“We consider it a high-demand item at the moment,” said Okinishi, explaining the limit. “We do that mainly because our philosophy has always been to allow as many people access as possible. We don’t want people purchasing it all and not be able to help other families.”
Stores are also seeing an increased demand for hand sanitizer. Fisher Hawaii in Kakaako recently sold out, while Walgreens had a sign limiting customers to four per household.
Honolulu medical doctors advise hand-washing and keeping hands away from eyes, ears and mouths as a way to help prevent the spread of viruses.
Dr. Richard Podolny of Honolulu recommends refraining from hand-shaking, greetings with kisses and even fist bumps for the time being. Unless a mask is certified N95 or better, it will not be effective, he said, but keep in mind that droplets can still get into one’s eyes.
Also, people who are sick should stay home and not go into the office. Those measures “could go a really long way” toward preventing the spread of viruses, he said.
COVID-19 STATUS IN HAWAII
Number of confirmed cases: 0
Number of persons under investigation (current or closed): 0
Number of persons under quarantine: 0
Persons self-monitoring: 58 (52 on Oahu, four on Hawaii island, one on Maui, one on Kauai)
Source: State Department of Health, as of Monday
Star-Advertiser writer Kristen Consillio contributed to this report.