Face Mask Price Gouging and Long Lines at Chinatown Post Offices Amidst Coronavirus Fears

Posted on: February 13th, 2020 at 5:03 am by

Photo: Karlin Chan

With elevated fears over Coronavirus gripping the world, many like myself, with family in China and Hong Kong, are worried about the shortage of surgical or N95 face masks overseas.

While the masks themselves might not be sufficient protection against the virus, it does provide some measure of comfort. But as I discovered, buying these masks proved a daunting task. Websites have resorted to price gouging, with some tripling the usual price. Masks that normally sold for an average of $15 for a box of ten are now going for $50 or more on average. One Amazon retailer actually priced $15 but wanted $150 for shipping.

Not much better in Chinatown pharmacies, either, as locals are scrambling to buy and ship to families back home. (Ironic, though, that masks made in China are a commodity bought here and shipped back.)

Having obtained several boxes of face masks, I set off for the Doyers Street post office to ship them to Hong Kong, but was greeted by long lines of those doing the same. In fact, it’s been like this daily for a month. Finally at the window, I opted for the 3-5 day priority overseas option – $54.15 for under 2 pounds – and left relieved in the knowledge that the package was en route. Or was it?

No! With major American and worldwide carriers suspending flights to Hong Kong and China, the USPS has no method of transporting my package, which shipped February 3 and tracked as arriving in Los Angeles February 11. The USPS finally acknowledged the issue, announcing on Tuesday the temporary suspension of mail/parcels to and from China and Hong Kong because of difficulty shipping.

Shouldn’t the government have made this announcement earlier?

Somehow I feel that I, and others, have been “double-dipped,” and the NYS Atty General should take action against the price gouging.

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