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Face mask shortage danger as coronavirus has people gobbling them up

Medical experts say most people who aren't sick don't need them.

WASHINGTON — Fear of the spreading coronavirus is causing a global run on sales of face masks despite medical experts' advice that most people who aren't sick don't need to wear them. A shortage could also put the effectiveness of the medical community at risk.

In South Korea this week, hundreds lined up to buy masks from pharmacies and discount stores. Shortages started cropping up in Asia soon after the outbreak became a crisis in China.

Now many places have sold out of masks, while others are limiting sales per customer.

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Dr. Michael Osterholm with the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy says there is already a shortage of good face masks and warns that hospitals need them first.

"Right now, if we lose our health care workers because they get infected trying to deliver care, we're in big trouble," said Osterholm.

Part of the problem: Some of the factories that make the masks are in or near the epicenter of the outbreak, China's city of Wuhan. The Associated Press reports China estimates it makes 50% of the world's surgical masks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control says only people who are sick or have symptoms like fever and shortness of breath should wear masks. Others should wash their hands, disinfect commonly used surfaces and avoid touching their face.

Amazon is policing its site, trying to make sure sellers don't gouge panicked buyers.

Home Depot has limited sales of N95 respirators to 10 per person, according to AP. N95 keeps out 95% of particles and has more filtration material than surgical masks.