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Surgical masks are hot accessory at ASU after coronavirus diagnosis

"It could spread really fast if it were to get out of hand," ASU student Chase Hales said of the coronavirus Tuesday, January 28, 2020. (KTAR News Photo/Griselda Zetino)

PHOENIX – Surgical masks became the hot accessory at Arizona State University as students sought protection from a contagious and potentially deadly new virus that hit close to home.

Multiple stores around the Tempe campus were sold out of the face masks, which some students have been wearing out of precaution after an ASU community member was diagnosed with the coronavirus after a trip to China.

“I know everything around here actually sold out,” said Daniel Oh, a student who wore a mask to ASU on Tuesday. “I got mine from a friend. She actually stocked up on it while they had stocks at stores.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM found shelves empty of surgical masks at one Target and two CVS stores near campus.

Oh said he was wearing the mask “just to be safe” because the school didn’t supply many specifics about the person who contracted the virus.

“There wasn’t really clear information if the student who was infected or found with coronavirus officially came on campus during the incubation period or not,” he said.

“Just to be safe. You don’t know how many people have been in contact with that person, or the elevators or whatnot.”

ASU announced Sunday that a community member who’d recently returned from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, was the state’s first confirmed coronavirus patient. The school didn’t specify whether the person was a student or a staff member.

The patient, who does not live in university housing and isn’t severely ill, is recovering at home in Tempe and being monitored by health officials.

On Tuesday, in accordance with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory, ASU President Michael Crow declared a moratorium on student, faculty and staff travel to China until the outbreak is resolved.

The number of confirmed cases in China rose to more than 4,500 on Tuesday, with the death toll eclipsing 100.

U.S. health officials haven’t made any recommendations to wear surgical masks, except for patients confirmed to have the virus and their caregivers and household members.

Gabrielle LaMountain, a junior, said she wore a mask to ASU because she has a weakened immune system and wants “to be safe, not sorry.”

“I’m actually skipping my class today because there’s freshmen in there and I know that they all live together and I don’t want to get sick,” she said.

Sophomore Chase Hales said he went to Walgreen’s, Target and Walmart on Monday but couldn’t find a mask. He was able to get his from his fiancée’s father, a doctor.

“I lived in Japan for two years, so for me this is like normal,” he said. “They do this a lot, mostly when they are sick already and they don’t want to spread it, but also to prevent people from getting stuff.”

Some students are concerned that ASU hasn’t done enough in the wake of the community member’s diagnosis.

Hales said he signed an online petition to have classes temporarily canceled. Oh also said he was in favor of canceling classes and keeping classwork online. ASU said Monday it was planning to stay open.

“It’s a really big school and there’s a lot of interaction and things, and it could spread really fast if it were to get out of hand,” Hales said.

“I think to be safe and just have school out for a week or whatever until we make sure that no one else is infected, I think that would be a really smart idea.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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