RICHMOND, B.C. — As people rush out to purchase face masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), a Richmond, B.C. resident is warning shoppers against buying dust masks as a substitute.
Although medical officials in Canada have said wearing face masks in general is not particularly effective as a means of protecting yourself from getting the virus, surgical masks have still been flying off shelves in Richmond.
Meanwhile, Christina Yang is warning customers that not all face masks are created equal.
On Feb. 9, Yang went to a store, Thinka, located central Richmond, to purchase 20 boxes of dust masks at $49.99 a box before tax; her total purchase was more than $1,000.
And although the masks are clearly marked as dust masks, not surgical masks, an in-store advertisement states: “Protect difference between dust mask and N95 mask: N95 protect 95%-100% dust, germ, saliva. Dust mask protect around 80-90% dust, germ, saliva.” The same message is written in Chinese.
Yang had planned to send the masks to friends and family members in China, where there is a shortage of face masks, while Chinese authorities require people to wear them in public.
“Nowadays, any masks available on the market could be sold out within a second. Almost all pharmacies across Metro Vancouver are sold out of surgical face masks. And you can’t go anywhere without wearing masks in China.
“I saw the ad in the store claiming that these dust masks could protect people from approximately 80 to 90 per cent of dust, gem and saliva. Considering I don’t have any better option, I bought 20 boxes of these dust masks right away.”
However, Yang said she was shocked after opening one box.
“These masks are so flimsy, just like a piece of paper. I don’t think they are good enough to prevent any virus,” said Yang, who showed the Richmond News how easily the mask could be torn.
Healthcare expert: Masks won’t help prevent coronavirus
Dr. Kenneth Fung, a physician and a health care consultant, told the News that dust masks wouldn’t help prevent any diseases.
“Dust masks can only filter out dust particles, which are perhaps hundreds of thousands of times bigger than virus particles – which can only be seen through an electronic microscope,” Fung said.
The best way to protect people from any virus is through “good, frequent handwashing,” according to Fung.
Once she saw how thin the masks were, Yang asked the store manager for a refund but was rejected.
These masks don’t have any quality issues: Store owner
Jake Hu, the owner of the store, told the News that all dust masks can be easily torn and “these masks don’t have any quality issues.”
Regarding the in-store ad claiming that they could protect against germs and saliva, Hu said he put up the explanation letter in response to questions from shoppers.
“Lots of people asked us the difference between N95 masks and dust masks; we have a responsibility to explain that to them. I did some research online and wrote the letter in hopes of helping them.”
Regarding a refund, Hu noted the store could not accept returns on any kind of face masks for health and safety reasons.
So while Yang may not get her money back, she does want to warn other buyers to beware.
“I want to remind those who are in desperate need of masks to be careful with any advertisement placed in-store, and always ask to be shown a sample before closing the deal,” said Yang.