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A gas station in San Diego County sells $2 medical-grade face masks for $10 each

A sign advertising medical-grade face masks at a dramatically marked-up price is posted above a counter at a gas station in Bonita on Wednesday.
(Morgan Cook / San Diego Union-Tribune)

While retailers including Home Depot and Lowe’s have stopped selling N95 masks to free up limited supplies for medical workers amid the coronavirus pandemic, a gas station in Bonita was selling 10-packs of a foreign version of the respirators for $100 each on Wednesday.

A letter-size sign that read “KN 95 GRADE MASKS 10PK AVAILABLE FOR SALE $99.99+TAX ASK CASHIER” was taped above the cash register inside an Arco gas station on Bonita Road when a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter visited Wednesday afternoon. When the reporter asked to buy one, the clerk produced a package of them from behind the counter and confirmed the $99.99 price, about $10 each.

A pack of five KN95 respirators was priced around $10, or $2 each, with delivery in late May to mid-June, from online retailer Amazon.com on Thursday afternoon. A comparable price was offered Wednesday by Chinese retailer Alibaba.

Runs on supermarkets, price gouging, canceled meetings and events — it seems like every day brings something new for consumers to worry about.

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During a state of emergency, state law prohibits price increases of more than 10% for essential goods and services. Violations are misdemeanors subject to a fine of up to $10,000, up to a year in jail or both. Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 4.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized KN95 respirators made in China for use in healthcare settings if N95 respirators are not available, provided the foreign masks meet certain standards, according to the emergency authorization letter the administration published April 3 on its website.

It was unclear whether the KN95 masks for sale Wednesday at the Bonita gas station met those standards.

The masks are among the most coveted supplies needed in hospitals and medical facilities that are treating people infected with the coronavirus amid a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers.

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A woman who answered the phone shortly afterward at KA Management Inc., a San Diego company that owns the gas station, said when asked about the masks that they had been donated to healthcare providers and were no longer being sold. When told that an employee at the station had offered to sell the masks to a Union-Tribune reporter less than an hour earlier, the woman, who did not give her name, said the company’s operations manager, who she declined to name, was not available and took a message for him.

No one at the company had returned the call Wednesday evening.

The employee at the gas station who spoke to the reporter Wednesday said a manager for the store who was off work for the day had directed employees to sell the masks. She said she had two packs available for sale.

Cooks writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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