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The Cost of N95 Masks — If You Can Find Them

Today it is a supply issue of major proportions.

The N95 mask is one solution for protecting people who care for people who are sick with the coronavirus COVID-19. This includes the entire medical community from emergency medical services pre-hospital care and in-patient care within a hospital. Not to mention doctors' offices. 

The problem is that these types of masks are not readily available. On the linked Amazon site, the message says, "We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock."

There are some 60 million masks in the United States Strategic National Stockpile that could be distributed to health-care systems. It may sound like a lot, but these are not multiple-day masks. They are disposable. 

It is a supply and demand issue. I was told recently that "in bulk," you used to be able to purchase N95 masks for as little as 18 cents. Today they are going for $3 to $4. 

The average person will likely be unable to find the N95 mask. The alternative is a surgical mask, which is best used on people who are coughing and sneezing, exhibiting the potential for upper respiratory illness, like COVID-19 or the flu, or a cold. 

The above is an example of the value of forethought and preparedness. Now — it is too late for this one commodity. 

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.