People are stealing face masks from local hospitals, Gov. Cuomo says

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

As fear over the new coronavirus in New York spreads faster than the outbreak, people have started to steal face masks and other medical equipment from local hospitals,  Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Friday.

“Not just people taking a couple or three, I mean just actual thefts of those products,” Cuomo said at a press conference from the state capital in Albany. “I’ve asked the state police to do an investigation, look at places that are selling masks, medical equipment, protective wear, feeding the anxiety.” 

Cuomo announced 11 new cases in the state overnight, bringing the total to 33 — tripling over the previous 48 hours.

“The number will continue to go up because it’s mathematics,” Cuomo said, trying to tamp down anxieties over the growing outbreak in the state. “The more you test, the more you will find.” There are roughly 2,700 people in New York City under ‘precautionary quarantine’ with more than 1,000 others also in voluntary isolation across the state, Cuomo said.

Almost four dozen people in the state are under mandatory quarantine, nine of whom are in New York City, he said. On Thursday, Cuomo said there were just two under mandatory quarantine in the city.

He didn’t say how much hospital equipment or masks were missing; the governor’s office wasn’t immediately available for comment. 

Health officials in cities like Boston have also reported thefts of respirator masks and other essential protective equipment in lobbies and other high traffic areas, Modern Healthcare reported. 

“Over the past seven weeks, the health system has spent more than $5 million purchasing lab supplies, gloves, gowns, masks, eye protection and other material in preparation for the coronavirus,” Northwell Health, a local healthcare provider in New York, said in a statement. “While we currently have adequate stock, the N-95 masks that protect our have been in high demand, so we are doing our best to identify other purchasing options.”

Cuomo added the state is also concerned about price gouging and said he plans to ask the state’s attorney general to begin an investigation. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson launched an investigation into extremely high prices for health care products on Wednesday after community members reported finding hand sanitizer priced as high as $50 to $100. 

Both Washington state and New York have been hotspots for the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., which has infected more than 245 people in the U.S., killing at least 14 as of Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

“Let’s dial this back, let’s get this back at the right frame for our seniors and the people in our community who need access to those products and not paying exorbitant prices,” Ferguson told CNBC Thursday morning.

World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have both said healthy people don’t need to wear face masks as a way to prevent respiratory illnesses, which includes COVID-19. 

WHO called on medical supply manufacturers to “urgently increase production” to meet global demand to the COVID-19 outbreak, saying they would need to increase production by 40% to meet the needs of the medical community.

In the U.S., The Department of Health and Human Services clarified Wednesday that the country has only 1% of the required respirator masks that would be needed for medical professionals if the outbreak erupts into a pandemic here. 

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