For the East Asian diaspora in the US, buying masks while they're still available is a necessity for family members abroad. Surgical masks and respirators have been sold out for weeks in the areas where outbreaks are ballooning.
Stefanie Yu, a tech worker in San Francisco, hadn't considered shipping masks to her family in Guanzhou until a friend who'd recently returned from China called her with an urgent message -- buy for your family immediately
"'Oh, this is happening,'" Yu remembered thinking. "Everyone is trying to get masks."
Every website and major retailer she visited had sold out of every mask. Respirators she clicked open on Amazon were gone within minutes.
She finally found a few from a packaging supply company. She bought 50 boxes with two N95 respirators each, which cost her more than $250.
"Those are disposable," she said. "You're supposed to wear it one time for a couple hours. So it's definitely expensive."
Shipping was even more chaotic, she said. A company that ships to China sent them on February 7 for $80. Then, about a week ago, the company told her it had returned the masks because no planes were flying to China.
The only other option to get the masks to her family would cost her another $80. She paid it.
She's still not sure if the masks made it -- or whether they ever will.
"I'm not the only one who's experienced this," she said. "[The company] was seeing a lot of people shipping masks, and according to them, most of the masks got turned back."
Her family is based in southern China, where the situation is not as severe as it is in Wuhan, where the outbreak originated. Her father still goes on his daily morning run. But every store there is sold out of masks and will be for the foreseeable future.
"I think lots of Chinese people who have overseas resources to buy masks and ship it back will do that," she said. CNN News