Those seeking face masks go to extreme measures

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) With people looking to protect themselves from the coronavirus, some are stocking up on face masks -- any face masks -- leading to shortages in many areas.

Face masks are flying off the shelves, even if they are the wrong kind. Some are buying masks made for construction work, even though they might not work because the COVID-19 virus is much smaller than dust particles.

Inside the Tree House in South Burlington, they have a retail woodshop and a working mill. "There is always some saw dust that gets kicked out of that when they are sawing," said the store's Carl Farnsworth. He says when they are working with dust, they wear face masks -- it's part of the job. "All the saw dust -- it's a known carcinogenic In California. It's always good to keep that out of your lungs."

He says they stock up, so he is not worried about running out. But people are coming into his mill trying to buy his masks.

At the Ace Hardware in Burlington, where they actually sell masks, the shelves are empty. "It started out a few people getting things for travel, then it was people getting everything they could get," said the store's David Abell. And it's more then just face masks. "No more hand sanitizer."

Abell says even heavy duty masks used for working with toxic paint or sanding are being bought up. On Thursday they got a rare shipment and they're worried they won't last long. "What we got in today was just a two-pack," he said.

The state has an emergency supply of medical masks it is already dipping into. "We have a stockpile here in Vermont also that we've released 50 percent of for the use of hospitals and are reserving the other 50 percent as we monitor this illness," said Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine.

The UVM Medical Center is only recommending people use medical masks if they are directly interacting with a patient with coronavirus. "We are certainly not recommending anything like that for people that feel fine, and we are not recommending that for a preventive measure against contracting the virus," said the center's Dawn LeBaron.

Back at the Tree House, Farnsworth says he sends people asking for his dust masks to the hardware store. "People are panicking I guess," he said.

We are told that some items like masks and hand sanitizer are being bought in bulk in the stores and are being sold online at much higher prices.